Agartala airport
Agartala airport

India is pressing for using some part of Bangladesh territory in Brahmanbaria for upgrading the Agartala airport to international standards.

The home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, who visits India next week,  told mediapersons in Dhaka  that the government was yet to decide on the issue.

India, which already has obtained transit and transshipment facilities, has pushed  this  proposal at several meetings since 2018.

It was not clear how much land was required for upgrading the existing Agartala airport but its runway were located less than a kilometre off the border at Chanpur of Akhaura.

Aircraft from Kolkata and Guwahati needed to use the Bangladesh airspace during take-off and landing at Agartala airport.

India first made the proposal at a bilateral meeting in July 2018 when India’s former home minister Rajnath Singh, now the defence minister, visited Bangladesh.

“As we were approached on the issue at the meeting, we asked them to make a formal proposal,’ the civil aviation and tourism secretary,” Mohibul Haque, said.

Two senior officials who attended the meeting at the foreign ministry in October 2018 said that a military official detailed security issues of sharing the Bangladesh territory with India.

“We also discussed how the airport would be managed and whether the bordering land would be leased out and what might be the process if the government wanted to share the land with India,” one official said.

Another official who attended the meeting argued that if the Agartala airport was extended, India would install lights inside the Bangladesh territory and would fence it for airport security.

Foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said that all who attended the meeting in October 2018 received the Indian proposal positively. ‘Everyone thinks that part of our land will be well connected.’

At the meeting, he also argued that Geneva International Airport falls partly in Switzerland and partly in France, he added.

Established in 1920, the Geneva airport lies in the Swiss territory while its northern boundary runs along the border and the airport can be accessed from both Switzerland and France.

Freight operations are also accessible from both the countries, making Geneva a European Union freight hub although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.

The airport, which is the property of the state of Geneva, is an autonomous public institution.

In 2018, more than 17 million passengers used the airport connected to 148 destinations by 57 airlines. There are a number of such airports in Europe and the US-Canada borders.

Whether allowing the land would affect national security, the foreign secretary said that people related to security issues would decide the matter. ‘I have seen it in a broader perspective and also in terms of business and mobility.’

He argued that there were cross-border airports in different countries. ‘Many countries use the same airport.’

Dhaka University international relations teacher Imtiaz Ahmed said the proposal was worth considering only if India was agreeable to a joint venture in managing the airport.

“If it is a joint venture, then we can consider,” said Imtiaz, adding, “otherwise, it is not logical.”

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “We do not give land to anyone this way… No decision has yet been made.”

Former civil aviation minister Rashed Khan Menon, also the Workers Party of Bangladesh president, was surprised at the proposal.

“How can an airport be expanded into my country? The government will face stiff resistance on the issue. This is not logical considering political, economic and aviation affairs,” he said.

“We should expand our airports, not other’s. Our people should not go to Kolkata via Agartala. I want to go to Kolkata from here. I want seven sister states of India to use Sylhet airport to reach other states in India,” Menon said.

After Guwahati and Imphal, Agartala airport was set to become the third international airport in India’s Northeast by 2019 or early 2020.

The Indian airport authorities took up a project involving Rs 438 crore to upgrade Agartala airport to international standards while the Indian government has already provided the authorities with 72 acres of land for the construction of the terminal building, runway and other necessary infrastructure.

Once the project is completed, flights would run between Agartala and Dhaka as well as other Bangladeshi cities such as Chattogram and Sylhet.

Tripura’s the then king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur built the airport in 1942 where three airliners now run on an average 14 flights on the Agartala–Kolkata, Agartala–Guwahati and Agartala–Delhi routes.

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