Planned several yrs back, much-needed expansion of Leh Airport yet to begin

LAHDC, people perturbed over inordinate delay

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Mar 18: The procedural and administrative hiccups continue to create roadblock in the much-needed expansion of strategically important Leh Airport, which was planned by the Union Government several years back to meet the requirement of increasing number of passengers. Shockingly, even the Airport Authority of India’s local officers are not in a position to specify as to when the work will actually start on ground.
Official sources told EXECLSIOR that the plan about expansion and up-gradation of Leh Airport, one of the world’s highest airfields, was finalized around five years back on the ground that existing passenger handling capacity was grossly inadequate. The objective of the project was to provide new parking bays and terminal building in order to increase the peak hour passenger capacity.
Accordingly, the exercise was started to get the required chunk of land from Indian Air Force (IAF) and hand it over to the Airport Authority of India (AAI) so as to pave the way for start of work on the much-needed project. This was imperative as land identified for the expansion/up-gradation belongs to the State Government but was under the physical possession of Indian Air Force (IAF).
“This process consumed unreasonably long time as IAF made it clear that in lieu of 11.8 acres of land the Government shall have to provide alternate land for shifting the utilities before vacating the identified area”, sources said, adding after hectic parleys this issue was resolved between the IAF and Airport Authority of India last year.
However, despite this the work could not be started on Rs 200 crore worth project till date as due to certain reasons the Airport Authority of India had to cancel the earlier contract and float fresh tenders for allotment of work, sources said, adding “this process is still going on as a result of which it is not known as to when the work will actually begin on ground even after resolution of all major and minor issues”.
“The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh and district administration are concerned over inordinate delay in start of work on the project especially when pre-construction activities like consultations, soil testing and preparation of site plan have almost been completed”, sources said.
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Leh Avny Lavasa confirmed that Airport Authority of India has yet not started work on the Leh airport expansion and upgradation project. “We have played our role by resolving all the land related issues and now ball is in the court of Airport Authority of India as far as start of work is concerned”, she added.
Even Airport Authority of India Director for Leh Airport P R Beuria could not specify time-frame for start of work on the project and said, “our role will come only when the fresh tendering process is taken to the logical conclusion at the level of central office”.  He, however, admitted that project is of immense importance from various aspects.
The project includes construction of new terminal building to cater peak-hour passenger rush and creation of new parking bays. With the up-gradation of infrastructure Airport Authority of India will be able to cater around 600 passengers at a time while the bay capacity will increase from existing two to five, sources said, adding there will be a centrally air-conditioned modular terminal building, traffic engineering and external roads, access system, lifts and escalators etc.
Due to inordinate delay in start of work on the project, the passenger handling capacity has remained grossly inadequate and people have been suffering a lot as air travel is the only mode of transport to the region during winter months when Leh remains cut-off from rest of the world due to closure of the Srinagar-Kargil and Leh-Manali National Highways.
“Keeping in view the prevailing situation there are apprehensions about the project meeting the deadline of 2020”, sources said and stressed that State Government should approach the concerned Ministry in the Union Government without wasting further time to get the fresh tendering process expedited and completed within shortest possible time.