May Kannur and Kerala flap their wings to heights

With Kannur International Airport Limited (KIAL) jubilantly dedicated to the nation on Sunday, not only has the long-standing dream of north Malabar been accomplished, the developmental concepts of Kerala are also surging up.

The newly constructed airport is certainly a relief for the Keralites including expats in north Kerala who, despite having several airports, have been facing different kinds of hardships in the case of travel even today.  Alongside, there is also immense expectation that KIAL would bolster the steps to development and progress of north Malabar and Kodagu region in south Karnataka that lies adjacent to it.  The Chief Minister’s avowed determination that there would be moves on the part of the government to realize this is welcome. It can be said that the Kannur International Airport was inaugurated on a war-footing faster than any other development projects in Kerala. The governments of the day  in power in the state took a special interest in this matter. Pinarayi Vijayan, who was the chairman of the committee which was formed for l the airport project two decades ago, can take pride in the fact that he could complete this dream project and dedicate it to the state after 22 years while serving as the Chief Minister.  And ever since the time he assumed the office of the CM, Vijayan has shown great enthusiasm in the completion of the construction works of KIAL.

A justifiable question as to why four airports in a tiny state like Kerala with a relatively high density of population, should be logically answered through the functioning of these airports with a sense of purpose and planning. There are experiences of lopsided approaches displayed by the central and state governments, the legislators and the official machinery in the case of Calicut International Airport. On the other side is the profitable experience of Cochin International Airport which has been functioning as a joint endeavour of the public and private sectors. Kannur International Airport is also functioning under a public-private partnership (PPP) model like Cochin.  However, it may need another analytical study as to how far the factors favourably highlighted by the government and allied agencies earlier in Cochi and now at the initial stage of Kannur, will be accomplished. 

One cannot however lose sight of the fact that airports are not the only hampering factor for the expatriate Malayali, there is also that of high and unjustifiable fares that blocks their travel.  The fares charged for flights touching the three existing airports of Kerala, for both domestic and international flights,  and the step-motherly attitude suffered by the international airport of Malabar are aspects that should figure prominently in the home work for KIAL's operations.  Although Kannur can with its private participation, as different from Kozhikode, facilitate some concessions, how far that can go remains to be seen.  And when a second airport has come up in Malabar region itself, where passengers are predominantly from the Gulf countries,   the government has to ensure that the growth of one does not come at the cost of the other.  In other words it is incumbent on the government to see that the new one does not swallow or tame the existing.  Recall also that it is only very recently that Karippur got a rebirth after a long wait,   and even after its deficiencies were corrected for operation of wide-bodied aircraft.When KIAL begin operations, the area getting highlighted is tourism.  Besides tourism, there is also an expectation of revival in the industrial and trade sectors of north Kerala. The Chief Minister’s announcement that projects would be prepared for the development of tourism and of the areas lying adjacent to the airport, generates hope.  There is little clarity now about the prospects of its practical implementation. If tourism via airport is made attractive and special projects for the industrial development centered on north Malabar are prepared and executed, it is certain to pave way to be a turning point in the development process of Kerala. Otherwise, it being an international airport, the project would be limited to collecting the income from expat Keralites.  And there will litle to gain more than the Malayalis' relishing pleasantries about Kerala's aviation luxury with four airports.

Kannur airport project has presented some notable models in the matter of planning and execution.  The state government was able to complete land acquisition for the 2,300 acres in Moorkhanparamba with least disturbance to the local population, and with an attractive rehabilitation package.     As per the chief minister, the airport has fulfilled the promise of compensatory plot for those who had to forgo their homes, and jobs in the airport or in ancillary organizations for one member of each affected family.   The government did not have to hear much of blame – as it happened in many other development projects of Kerala – of being anti-people.   An airport that came into being on the back of such popular participation, could also have averted the discordant notes about complaints from some that they were sidelined in the inauguration ceremonies.   Let us wish for Kannur to flap its wings to heights of a prosperous future,   minimising deficiencies and ensuring the fulfilment of the goals envisioned in the path of development.

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