Jammu Airport extension dispute


The project of extending the runway of Jammu Airport has been under consideration for quite some time. An area of 1200 kanals of land is identified to be procured for this purpose. This extension is necessitated by extended air traffic to and from Jammu, and also the increased need of Army and security forces. Moreover, the existing airport, especially the runway, is too small to allow safe landing for bigger aircrafts. In fact the airport itself needs to be modernized as it looks so primitive.

A dispute has arisen between the Army and the civil authorities of J&K Government. The above mentioned land is in the control of Army which has raised structures and infrastructure as per its requirement. There have been several rounds of talks between Army officers and the Revenue Department officers of J&K Government to overcome the hurdles and objections of the Army. It is to be pointed out that extension of Jammu Airport is among the mega projects under the contemplation of the State Government.

Although some of the irritants have been removed through negotiations yet at the last moment a serious legal dimension of the case has surfaced when the concerned authorities were briefing the Chief Minister on the status of airport extension case. It has been revealed that the Army has racked up the issue of an agreement between the Army and the State of Jammu and Kashmir concluded in the year 1956 according to which the land in the state that remained in occupation of the State forces of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir, will pass into the control of Indian Army and will be mutated in the name of the Army. So far this issue had not arisen while the process of negotiations was going on for quite a long time. Obviously, the Chief Minister is unhappy as he thinks that the Army is creating one after another hurdle, and thus the prestigious project is getting delayed. In his capacity as the Chief Minister of the State, he would naturally want that the project is cleared as early as possible and work begins without further loss of time.

The Defence Ministry seems to be seized of the issue but it appears that it would want the above mentioned agreement to be honoured by the State Government. As far as the legal aspects of the case are concerned, we don’t have any authority and qualification to sit on judgment. Only legal luminaries are in a position to reflect on the case. We would only wish that the issue is reasonably resolved to the satisfaction of the parties concerned. It should not force the sides to take positions.

However, what we are concerned about are the interests of the people of the State and the larger security interests of the country. From that point of view we feel somewhat discouraged that a matter of immense importance to the nation and to the local people should get entangled in a dispute that leaves bad taste in the mouth. We expect both sides to observe restraint and calm. We do not say that legalities of the case should be overlooked or undermined. But where national interests are involved, compromise is the best course. Neither of the two sides lacks the capacity and capability of arriving at a compromise formula.

What is to be borne in mind is that the extension of the airport cannot be stopped in any case. It is a national requirement. Moreover, it cannot be stopped on a trivial issue of agreeing or not agreeing to the mutation of the said land. The nation cannot be held a hostage to such trivial hurdles when larger and more urgent interests of national importance are involved. We are reminded of an incident that happened in 1948 in Poonch. The town was under long siege of Pakistani invaders and the besieged Indian garrison was in extremely critical situation. Indian air force wanted to bring essential ammunition and supplies to the besieged troops but there was no air strip. The great and valiant soldier, Brig. Pritam Singh, Commander of the garrison, brought out hundreds of the youth of the besieged town at night and ordered them to level the graveyard along the bank of Betarh river. By morning the strip was ready and aircrafts landed about early noon bringing essential supplies. Many months after the event, the then Chief Minister of J&K, on his visit to Poonch, expressed his displeasure to the Brigadier that he had desecrated the dead and it was sacrilege. The great soldier retorted, “Sir, I have come to save the living not the dead”. We hope that the Army will not forget the example of this great soldier, the pride of the nation, and will realize that airports are lifeline to the security of the people they are defending.


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