With the commissioning of Kannur International Airport on December 9, Kerala is set to have its fourth international airport while the fifth one is on the drawing board.
It may sound ironical that despite poorly developed roads and railway infrastructure, Kerala could be the envy of other states in airport infrastructure. Last week, it took nearly seven hours for me to take a bus ride from Ernakulam to Thiruvananthapuram just to cover 215 kms. It is no different whether it is a KSRTC Superfast or Low Floor Volvo unless it is early morning when there isnt much traffic in the various hubs that connect various districts. Similarly, travel from Kochi to Kozhikode or Kannur may be nightmarish experience except in the narrow strips of national highways with four lane traffic.
It is not that Kerala didn’t moot the idea of expressways as in other states but the opposition to it was quite intense whenever it was raised. When P K Kunhalikutty was the Industries Minister there was a move to set up an expressway linking Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargod with four or six lane traffic. The idea was to enable travel from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargod in just five hours. But it was nipped in the bud by the fierce opposition to it by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) which thought it would divide the state geographically into pieces and also cause large scale eviction of people and destruction of their livelihood.. With national and state highways failing to keep pace with the transportation demands and under-utilisaton of water ways make intra-state travel a nightmare.
Four International Airports
Kerala set a trend for the whole country with the setting up of Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery in Ernakulam in Public Private Parternship (PPP) mode. The visionary behind the idea was veteran Congress leader and Chief Minister at that time, Mr K Karunakaran. In those days, I remember E K Nayanar speaking at a public rally in Thiruvananthapuram ridiculing K Karunakaran saying that aviation and airports are all central subjects and his dream is not going to materialise. However, this attitude isn’t surprising because a decade before that when Rajiv Gandhi was talking about taking the country to the 21st century through electronic revolution and computerisation, LDF were in the forefront agitating against it because they thought it would lead to heavy loss of jobs for workers!
The main obstacle to development of roads is the unavailabilty of land and density of population. However, the reason for the sustainable operations of four international airports comes from the large number of people from the state employed in various countries and also in different parts of India apart from the fact that that Kerala is a preferred tourist destination for travellers worldwide.
CIAL model became successful because of the other city side infrastructure and amenities that were built to supplement the revenues of the airport. CIAL has become a case study for leading universities world wide and last year they scored another first by building a new international terminal (T3) at 50% lower cost at Rs 65000 per square feet compared to similar airport infrastructure anywere in the country. The same cost effectiveness was maintained in Kannuar International Airport too as the technical consultants for the two greenfield airpots were KITCO Ltd, the premier technical consultancy organisation (TCO).
The successful launch of Kochi Metro, Vytilla Mobility Hub and the proposed Kochi Water Metro speaks volumes of the progress made in the state in urban transport infrastructure but there are several loose ends to be tied up before road travel gets smooth in Gods Own Country. This is vital for the growth of tourism industry, fast movement of goods especially since it is consumer state dependent on supplies from other states. The development of Kochi Water Metro may give the much needed boost for utilising our water ways for quicker means of transport.
In this context, the idea of having airstrips in select destinations such as Munnar, Wayanad would go a long way in lessening the woes of tourists who now have to take long road journeys after landing in Kochi or Calicut airports to reach their preferred destinations.Airstrips provide basic infrastructure for landing of smaller bodied aircrafts without any terminal facilities and amenities.
Now the CPM is talking about launching a ‘Rennaissance’. The same set of people who talk about building an egalitarian society opened up by the Sabarimala verdict favouring entry for women of all ages and ending Brahmanical dominance of temple worship rites, conveniently forget where Kerala would have been if computerisation was resisted as they wished and Nedumbassery Airport hadn’t become a reality!