BATHINDA – THE Badals’ bastion — is now connected by air with capital Delhi as Air India commenced its Delhi-Bathinda flight on Sunday. Bathinda MP and Union Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal along with Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju landed at the Bathinda domestic airport from Delhi. Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal welcomed them and termed Bathinda airport as “a historic step which will boost the employment avenues in Malwa region”.
Harsimrat Badal said this “domestic airport will transform Bathinda into an industry and trade hub”. Air India’s 70- seater ATR-72 aircraft will operate thrice a week (Wednesday, Friday & Sunday) with ticket priced at Rs 2,500. However, the state’s largest and already existing industrial hub — Ludhiana — has been demanding air connectivity with Delhi and a decent domestic airport for decades now.
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To add to its woes, the recently introduced Ludhiana-Delhi flight (on September 1) by private operator Jetsmart has been temporarily suspended, too. Launched with much fanfare on September 1, Jetsmart started its eight-seater luxury aircraft — Beech B200 King Air — from Sahnewal airport of Ludhiana with tickets priced from Rs 10,000-13,000.
Angad Dhaliwal, business development head, Jetsmart, confirmed to The Indian Express that the company has ‘temporarily suspended’ the flights within three months of the launch. He, however, blamed the weather for it. “It is just temporary suspension due to fog and weather issues. We will start flights again but it is not yet decided when operations will resume,” said Dhaliwal. Following discontinued air connectivity since 1999, former Congress MP Manish Tewari, on demand of industrialists from Ludhiana, had resumed Ludhiana-Delhi flights from Sahnewal in 2010.
Air India was running one ATR aircraft from Ludhiana to Delhi since 2010 but discontinued it in May 2014 citing erratic bookings, low passenger volume, inadequate facilities at Sahnewal airport. Since then, the state government has failed to make Sahnewal domestic airport functional and airlines, including AI, have not shown interest in operating flights from there either. Now, industrialists are furious that a city like Bathinda, which has almost no demand for air connectivity to Delhi, has got a domestic airport with flights to the capital Delhi at Ludhiana’s expense.
“Is it all about votes? Is it because Badals cannot afford to lose their vote bank in Bathinda? Now, an airport with flight to Delhi has been made operational there, but we have been demanding this since decades for Ludhiana. Do they have an idea how problematic it gets to reach Delhi for urgent meetings. What purpose is Bathinda-Delhi flight going to serve?” asked Sameer Jain, a hosiery owner.
Amit Jain, another hosiery owner, said, “Ridiculous it is to see that Bathinda — a city with literally no leading industry – is given an airport. Ludhiana which leads the country in cycles, hosiery, textile, dyeing, auto parts, etc. is waiting for the same demand since decades. It is only because Badals are from Bathinda that it is seeing unprecedented development and even getting things it doesn’t need.”
Industrialists added that Jetsmart flight tickets were too high. “Rs 13,000 for ticket to Delhi is not worth it and Shatabdi or own vehicle is a better option. We need an airlines to run regular flights at affordable rates like Bathinda has been given. But, why would Ludhiana get preference. It is not Badals’ home turf,” said Inder Malhotra, an auto parts manufacturer.