- NET Web Desk
As China is ramping up its airbases along the Indian border the proposed Airport for Tawang to be set up at Lumla has not moved ahead has been stuck in the files.
Intelligence reports have indicated that at least 16 bases most of them are close to Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the crucial India-Nepal-Tibet tri-junction. The bulk of them is in the Xinjiang province which shares borders with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia thus making it a move to affect the geopolitics of the region.
A report by Pradeep Kumar in Arunchal Observer states that among the new airports Ali Gunsa, Burang, and Tashkorgan are being developed for both civilian and military purposes.
Concern for the Northeast and Arunachal particularly are two new airports being developed close to its borders, as reported by India Today.
This new development should be enough to ring alarm bells in Delhi’s power corridors & prompt its movers and shakers to develop airports along Indo- China border, particularly Arunachal Pradesh, which shares the longest 1,126-km of total 3,488-km Indo-China border.
Pradeep Kumar in his report at Arunachal Observer also informs that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced the setting of eight advanced landing grounds (ALGs) Arunachal’s Air connectivity on January 31, 2008.
Sadly, 19 years later the proposal for a greenfield airport at Tawang district is stuck in limbo.
It is worth mentioning that former CM Late Dorjee Khandu had taken a lot of initiative. Later Nabam Tuki led a team including Tourism Minister Pema Khandu (present CM), Civil Aviation Parliamentary Secretary Jambey Tashi, and S&T Parliamentary Secretary Phur Tsering besides MP Takam Sanjoy and MLA Padi Richo had called on Defence Minister A K Antony in September 2012 last to pursue the matter, where the latter greenlit the project.
Since then the proposal has been in the doldrums. Till now no clearance has been issued by the defense ministry on the condition that the proposed airfield for civilian operations would be close to the border with China.
Ironically the Kailasahar airport in Tripura is located on the border with Bangladesh. Even before the defence ministry signed an MoU with the Arunachal Pradesh Govt. June 2009 taking over control of eight ALGs lying unused in Walong, Tuting, Vijaynagar, Mechuka, and Tawang – close to the Sino-India border – and in Aalo, Pasighat and Ziro, (HQs of West Siang, East Siang, and Lower Subansiri districts), the Arunachal govt had proposed the central govt to set up greenfield airports in Tawang and Lumla for tourism, developmental activities and most importantly for national security.
Defence secretary Vijay Singh, had signed an MoU with the state’s then chief secretary Tabom Bam in presence of then CM Dorjee Khandu and Finance Minister Kalikho Pul as part of PM’s 2008 package, during which the GoAP handed over the ALGs to the defence ministry.
The Arunachal Govt. agreed to hand over the ALGs for both defence and civilian purposes and the road connectivity was unreliable in these sparsely populated areas.
With Tawang helipad under Army’s control expansion limited due to lack of feasible terrain, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had conducted a pre-feasibility study for greenfield airports at Tawang and Lumla. The report found Lumla to be suitable for operating fixed-wing aircraft for defence and civilian purposes as there is no sufficient land at Tawang for expansion.
Kumar also states that the report was submitted to Planning Commission through the NEC/DoNER for approval. It however required the defence ministry’s clearance. According to the site selection report, a high-level team including AAI consultant D P Chakravarti, GDM (eng-civil) L N Padhi and AAI SM (ATC) N K Talukdar with senior GoAP officers, and then CM Khandu had conducted an aerial survey by a Jagson helicopter on November 21 and 22 in 2007. The team while flying from Guwahati to Tawang via Bhutan observed saw a ridge along the North-South direction that appeared to be 2000Mx150M at Lumla.
“After the aerial survey, the matter was discussed with the pilot. Out of these locations, the site at Lumla can be primarily recommended for setting up of greenfield airport. The other site at Mibra (Mebra) may be suitable for a short take-off and landing (STOL) airport. The site of Lumla is recommended for greenfield airport subject to the fulfillment of various criteria,” Kumar quotes in his report.