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March 2022 deadline set for Arunachal’s Hollongi airport

The project triggered fall of Cong., upsurge of BJP in State

The Union Civil Aviation Minister has set March 2022 as the deadline for completion of a greenfield airport that triggered the fall of the Congress and upsurge of the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh.

Hollongi airport near Itanagar was among a slew of projects for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone in February. The airport is estimated to cost ₹1,200 crore.

Union Minister of State (Independent) for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri, during a videoconference with Arunachal Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar, said that the Centre would assist the State to ensure that the Hollongi airport is completed by March 31, 2022.

Helipads at 5 sites

The focus of the discussion was also on developing helipads at five strategic locations in Arunachal Pradesh, apart from Tawang. The State government suggested air connectivity between India and Bhutan via the Tawang helipad.

The Hollongi airport project has been a touchy topic for successive governments in Arunachal Pradesh. It was one of the major reasons why the former Congress government headed by Nabam Tuki fell and the BJP came to power in the State.

Site change

The airport was initially scheduled to be built at Karsingsa, also near Itanagar, where former Union Minister Shivraj Patil had laid the foundation stone in 2008. The Tuki government rejected the site in 2012 due to “geographical complications” and opted for Hollongi.

In October 2015, former Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa wrote to PM Modi that the proposed airport at Hollongi be scrapped to save ₹1,150 crore, including ₹500 crore in land compensation.

He advised upgrading the Lilabari airport in Assam’s North Lakhimpur town, adding that he was echoing the suggestion of Opposition leaders, students’ organisations and social activists in Arunachal Pradesh. Mr. Rajkhowa’s letter stated that Mr. Tuki, his cousin and former Assembly Speaker Nabam Rebia and other relatives own most of the land in Hollongi “because of which the original site for the airport was moved”.

The cold war between Mr. Rajkhowa and Mr. Tuki intensified and led to the latter’s ouster in January 2016. The Supreme Court reinstated Mr. Tuki as the Chief Minister in July that year. However, Mr. Tuki quit handing over the reins to Pema Khandu, who first headed a Congress government that changed to the regional People’s Party of Arunachal before switching to the BJP in December 2016.

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