May 25th, 2019
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The plan to build a new international airport -- a critique
September 16th, 20102,894 views

It is hard to accept that Bengalis are short in vision. About a century ago, Gopal Krishna Gokhale famously said, "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow."

But the servile attitude of the so-called elites of our society indirectly sabotages national interest.

Some businessmen, along with the World Bank, sold to the Prime Minister the idea of building a new airport and give it the name of Bangabandhu International Airport. They apparently exploited her sentimental weaknesses. As if Bangabandhu needs that recognition -- an airport named after him? By trying to sell such an idea to her is not only insulting her but also the Father of the Nation. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is one and only one who will be remembered and respected for his deeds and not because bridges, airports or schools are named after him. Should any political party decide to change the name of Bangabandhu International Airport after a couple of years, it will be a double-insult but nobody seems to realize it. How hollow or shallow are we?

It will also not be out of context to mention here that when, for the first time, this project was suggested, the then government had suggested to name the airport after Sayed Nazrul Islam as he was from Mymensingh. Why did the businessmen forget that? For convenience or to make it sellable to the Prime Minister? The purpose of these businessmen is to make some money -- actually huge sum of money -- at any cost and the World Bank also tends to gain financially.

Neither the WB nor the businessmen seem to care about a poor nation like ours. This country must be having a list of priorities and where does this airport stand is something to be looked into. Why should the government agree to spend Taka 50,000 billion (500,0000 crore) for the airport and another Taka 50,000 billion (500,0000 crore) for the expressway to link it with the cities while there are priorities like setting up power plants, flyovers, inter-district highways, etc? Is making money at the cost of the nation the order of the day? Sabotage would be the right word.

Bangladesh is a poor country with limited land and resources. People here is mainly dependent on agriculture. Already, poor planning and lack of pragmatic infrastructures are eating away land areas, reducing agricultural lands by allowing buildings to come up. It will not be out of context to suggest that any government should have adopted policies regarding dwellings and high-rise buildings to save agricultural lands. At the time of independence the population was 75 million but now it stands at 150 million (if not more). Land area has not increased since then. Now, if crooks want to further reduce the land by acquiring approximately 300 hectares of land for the airport, which will not bring any remarkable benefit to the nation, the government should wake up, mark these people and take action against them. And if one cares to find out about the activities and recommendations of the WB, one will soon realise that none of their suggestions or activitiies has been or is going to be good for this country in the long run.

Hypothetically if I agree that Bangladesh needs this airport as suggested by the WB and if the volume of traffic increases many folds, will the authorities find people capable enough to handle the increased business? Is the government or the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) planning on such grooming? Is there a plan already chalked out with this proposal? If one quietly ponders over this subject, he or she will not only get mad but will feel lost to just list the endless requirements. All the nitty-gritty has to be sorted out at the outset or else the whole project will end as a disaster. Can we afford that? I do not think so and like me, many honest ones hold the same opinion. Peripheral requirements are far too many to make the effort functional. Who are the WB and these businessmen kidding with and why? If the government feels that this fund is coming easy, then it should be diverted into things of pragmatic nature beneficial to the country. But I doubt if the WB will allow that, they normally don't. I also wonder how a world body like the WB could agree to fund such a meaningless project. They have all the expertise and yet they do not mind fooling simple people of this country. Should they want to help us and should we need their help, both should be evaluated pragmatically and not with such callousness or crooked minds.

It needs to be understood how vicious these business men/WB are. In a poor country everybody has a price to be bought for any purpose. These businessmen have been throwing around money to convince people that we need another airport so much so that they successfully organised a human chain in Mymensingh to force the government or justify the reason (in typical village style) to have the airport. How come the people do not form human chains for power failure, gas lines or proper road etc? 'Patano khela' (fixed game)? How long will this 'patano khela' continue in the country?

The present airport is more than enough to handle the meagre traffic. What we need is to train the people involved to enhance their efficiency. What goes on in Heathrow or Singapore airport regarding traffic and cargo handling is beyond the comprehension of any individual of the present set-up here. To achieve such a level of efficiency, extensive training is imperative and is easily possible if there is a will. Considering the future and increasing volume of traffic and cargo, facilities at the present airport need to be improved many folds. The airport needs to come up to world standards in all respect. A parallel runway can be built on the western side of the present one without disturbing the dwellers or breaking their houses and again helping the WB by taking compensation money as a loan. The cantonment can be shifted to far-flung areas and that portion of the Cantonment can be used for the second runway. This whole deal will not even cost one-tenth of the proposed cost. We can use the airport for hundred of years like the Heathrow airport, enhancing things as and when required. The people of this country are simple, honest and capable; such crooked businessmen should not be allowed to pollute it. Actually, human chains (manob bondhon) should be formed against such dubious businessmen and the WB.

Capt. S.M. Nasimul Haque (Rtd) is a former president of the Bangladesh Airline Pilots' Association