Inaugurating the Kushinagar international airport that will connect the eastern Uttar Pradesh city with important centres on the Buddhist circuit in India and South-East Asia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted on Wednesday that 300 of the proposed 900 airports under the UDAN scheme are already functional. This will give a boost to tourism, generate employment and lead to the overall development of smaller cities.
The Kushinagar airport, which attracts thousands of Indian and foreign Buddhists every year as Gautam Buddha attained Parinirvana here, is the third international and the ninth airport to become functional in UP. The poll-bound state has two more international airports in the pipeline at Jewar and Ayodhya.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by Sri Lankan cabinet minister and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal and diplomats from Vietnam and Singapore.
The airport will connect the city with neighbouring countries which have a sizable number of Buddhists.
FOCUS ON INFRASTRUCTURE
Modi said the region will get connected to the world, giving impetus to the message of peace and generating employment as hotels, travel services and the like will come up. Modi highlighted the focus on the development of places associated with Lord Buddha through better connectivity and the creation of facilities for devotees. “Development of Kushinagar is one of the key priorities of the UP and central governments,” he said.
He said tourism, whether for faith or leisure, needs modern infrastructure complete with rail, road, airways, waterways, hotels, hospitals, internet connectivity, hygiene, sewage treatment plants and renewable energy ensuring a clean environment.
“All these are inter-connected and it is important to work on all these simultaneously. Today’s 21st century India is moving ahead with this approach,” Modi said. He announced that under the UDAN scheme, more than 900 new routes were approved, of which air service has started on more than 350 routes. More than 50 new airports or those which were not in service earlier, have been made operational.
Apart from the nine functional airports in UP, there is a project to build airports at Jewar, Ayodhya, Aligarh, Azamgarh, Chitrakoot, Moradabad and Shravasti.
“This step will give new energy to the aviation sector. One such major reform is related to the opening of defence airspace for civil use,” Modi said. The recentlylaunched drone policy is going to bring life-changing transformation in fields ranging from agriculture to health, disaster management and defence, he said.
Modi said the recently-launched PM GatiShakti-National Master Plan will not only improve governance but ensure that all modes of transport should support each other and increase each other’s capacity. Namal Rajapaksa led a delegation with 100 senior Buddhist monks, 4 state ministers and other senior officials.
Modi had announced a $15 million grant for the promotion of bilateral Buddhist ties during the Virtual Summit with PM Mahinda Rajapaksa in September last year.
Completion of the Kushinagar airport was long overdue. The parliamentary panel on culture had noted on several occasions that all five projects which are part of the Buddhist Circuit costing `355.26 crore had witnessed many time overruns. The tourism ministry had then flagged issues of land availability, delay in statutory clearances, delay in tendering work by implementing agencies, and blamed state governments.
The panel had noted that there had been substantial underutilisation of funds of almost 50% in four of the five projects and had asked the ministry to take appropriate corrective measures.
In Kushinagar, ministers Kishan G Reddy and Jyotiraditya Scindia met hotel owners and tour operators and assured them that despite the Covid-19 year being economically harsh, the Centre would work with them to renew tourism opportunities in the area.
“The ministry officials will be here for two days to take note of all your concerns and implement them,” Reddy said.