As soon as it made headlines that the Supreme Court has given the permission to construct a new airport terminal building in Agra, Uttar Pradesh with a cost of Rs 327 crore, the tourism industry of the city was ecstatic.
However, the excitement lasted for only a few seconds.
In the rest of it, the Supreme Court order also placed a moratorium on adding any more flights at the new terminal building, other than the existing two-three flights that are plying between Agra, Delhi, Jaipur and Khajuraho.
Reacting to the plea made by environmentalist lawyer MC Mehta that the increased number of flights at the new airport terminal could become hazardous to the Taj Mahal which is already facing tremendous pressure from pollution.
The Supreme Court bench, led by Chief Justice SA Bobde, observed, “Prima facie, we consider this objection to be a sound objection and we do not propose to allow an increase in air traffic on this air field.”
The court added, “It might be difficult to permit an increase in air traffic. We, therefore, consider it appropriate to direct the Union of India to consider an alternative site in such anticipatory increase in traffic where the aircraft could operate from.”
Despite the central government’s assurances to the court and to the local tourism industry that a study of the effect of the increase in number of flights on the Taj Mahal will be conducted very soon, this single observation made by the Supreme Court has dashed all hopes of Agra having a properly functional airport anytime in the near future.
GROWTH VS THE TAJ
Talking to India Today, Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber President Prahalad Agarwal said that the Supreme Court observations are bound to have a devastating effect on the possibilities of growth in the number of flights to Agra.
In fact, this observation by the court could even result in the airline companies being forced to approach the Supreme Court for every single change in their itinerary or to add another flight to the city.
Agarwal said that the new terminal will be built in an area of 55 acre with the cost of Rs 327.4 crore by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) with a capacity of 750 passengers, including 500 domestic and 250 international passengers.
He said that the new terminal is expected to have parking facilities of an A-320 aircraft along with three ATR (transport) series aircraft and a vehicle parking of 350 cars, but none of these will matter if no new flights are allowed to connect Agra to the rest of the country using this terminal. “It will ultimately be a colossal waste of money in the absence of new flights.”
Arun Dang, Chairman of the Agra Tourism Guild said that the decision of the Supreme Court to allow the construction of the new terminal is a positive sign for the growth of tourism in Agra, “but if there are going to be no new flights at the new terminal, then why is the new terminal being constructed?”
Approved Guides Association President Shamshuddin said that the tourists coming to Agra will have an advantage with the new terminal as they will be able to land in Agra directly and make their further travel plans from here, but that is only possible if new flights are allowed to connect Agra to national and international destinations. “The current flights that are coming to Agra are insufficient to handle the bulk of air travel requirements of the tourists and the locals.”
On the suggestion of the Supreme Court of running trains like Palace on Wheels to Agra for tourists, the tourism industry representatives said that there is no dearth of trains connecting Agra to the rest of the country and in fact, Agra is also well-connected by roads to the rest of India, making another luxury train dedicated for tourists totally unnecessary.
They claimed that by this suggestion, the Supreme Court appears to be under an impression that the bulk of tourists coming to Agra belong to the affluent class who can afford luxury travel, while in fact, it was the domestic tourists and local residents who were in need of a faster and economical way to travel to and from Agra from rest of India and the new air terminal was meant to solve their woes.
A travel agency owner who caters mostly in foreign tourists said that the Taj Mahal was already an unofficial no-fly zone and the new air terminal was being constructed far away from the Taj Mahal. He suggested that “instead of placing a moratorium on adding flights to Agra, the air corridor leading to the Agra airport could be so designed by the DGCA [Directorate General of Civil Aviation] that the flights do not pass within a fixed aerial distance from the Taj Mahal”.
He said, “A number of Delhi’s major monuments were even older than the Taj Mahal but nobody had ever heard of a moratorium on adding new flights to the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport to ensure the safety of these monuments, then why Agra was being subjected to this step-motherly treatment, is beyond comprehension.”