Disconnected and neglected Nagaland
DIMAPUR, OCTOBER 9
NAGALAND has become a forgotten part of the civil aviation map of the country. At present the national carrier, Air India is operating five flights a week to Dimapur, which is shared with Dibrugarh. Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland is the only city in the State that has an airport and railway station. Till recently, Air India had three daily flights touching Dimapur, apart from private airlines line Deccan and Jet Airways. Air India alone operated flights from and to Kolkata on a daily basis with ATR and Airbus services. There were also flights to Guwahati with ATR service. Over and above this, Jet Airlines operated daily direct flights from and to Kolkata. The connectivity provided by Jet was a big advantage as it’s national and international network was available to travellers from the State, originating from Dimapur.
However, all that has changed. As of today there are only five flights touching Dimapur every week. On Mondays and Fridays, Dimapur airport goes dead, except for the roar of the State helicopter from time to time. Even these five flights are shared with Dibrugarh in Assam, and here too, most of the seats are reserved for the Dibrugarh sector.
Dimapur airport is also one of the most neglected airports in the entire country. There is no air-conditioning inside the airport, rather there are weeds and cobwebs donning the interiors of the airport. The airport does not have an aerobridge (Dibrugarh has two). On rainy days, a bus is used to transport passengers from the waiting room to the aircraft. The single rickety mid-sized bus needs to make at least three trips of about a hundred metres each to ferry all the passengers to the aircraft. This after the arrival passengers are ferried first. The poor staff and employees of the Airport Authority are used to getting drenched in the rain.
Another facility that the Dimapur Airport lacks is the night landing facility, which makes the landing and take off time very limited especially in the winter months. Without this facility, the functioning capacity of the airport and the control tower is limited to only daylight. With winter approaching, meaning shorter days, it is crucial that the night landing facility in Dimapur is installed sooner than later.
Inside the airport, there in no restaurant, no waiting room, no telephone, no internet connection, just the bare basics. The toilets and bathroom facilities are less than mediocre and far from clean. The airport does not have an AVA shop and collect counter (even Aizwal has one). The waiting area, after security check is dirty and dust infected, the seats are mostly torn, water is leaking from all corners and a single television set is more of an eyesore. Outside, there are no flowers, landscaping or any sign of maintenance. Instead there are potholes, puddles and cramped parking.
Nagaland is a land locked state with connectivity possible only through surface and air transport. Of road connectivity, the less said the better. The State capital, Kohima is one of the few capitals that does not have an airport. The State has been requesting for an airport at Kohima for more than decade but the Government of India is yet to take any concrete action.
Some months back, with news of Jet Airways about to withdraw its services, the State Government had gone on overdrive mode to request Jet to continue its service with the Chief Minister writing to Jet and the union Civil Aviation Minister. The State Chief Secretary had even met the Civil Aviation Secretary and was apparently given assurance that Jet would not withdraw its services, but Jet withdrew. Why Jet withdrew is another story altogether.
The State Government has also taken up with the Government of India dozens of occasions through letters meetings, requests, etc for better air services more flights, up gradation of the airport, etc but obviously all this has fallen on deaf ears. There seems to be a shockingly mute approach to Nagaland’s connectivity needs.
Imphal is soon to become an international airport and Guwahati is already an international airport. Nagaland is the Indian union’s 16th State and will be celebrating the 50th year of Statehood on 1st December this year, but so far as connectivity is concerned, the requirements of the State has always remained on the periphery. And this has just sorely come to light by drastically reducing the frequency of flights to cater to the growing requirements.
It’s a decision that is equivalent to taking one step forward but two steps back. How are ordinary passengers, businessmen and even tour operators expected to adjust to this yawning gap in connectivity. Worse still the changes have taken place just as the ‘biggest’ draw of visitors to the state is to take place the – ‘Hornbill Festival’.
Airfares to the state are exorbitant enough by itself but to limit the option of travel to and out of the state is a sure killer of this festival, regardless of its merits and demerits. Surely the mandarins of power know that such decisions only reiterate the sense of being ‘differently treated’ over and over again.