Lehri Singh, a 52-year-old daily wage labourer, has never been in an airplane. A resident of Kishorepur village in Gautam Buddha Nagar’s Jewar area, Singh earns around Rs 7,000-10,000 every month — hardly enough for him, or the three generations before him that lived in the area, to see the premises of an airport. “When the airport is built here, I want to sit on a plane. We are giving our land for the airport; we will get an opportunity to travel in a plane, won’t we?” asks Singh.
Kishorepur is one of the nine villages on whose land the National Capital Region’s second airport is set to come up. Located close to the 165-km-long Yamuna Expressway that connects Noida to Agra, the site for the Noida International Airport received approval from the Ministry of Civil Aviation last week.
Two kilometres from the Jewar toll plaza on the six-lane Yamuna Expressway, which is flanked by vast agricultural fields on both sides, a narrower road leads to the Jewar-Bulandshahr highway. There, Singh and half a dozen residents of nearby villages sit at a tea stall, discussing how a team of “government officials” had come to the area a few days ago.
“They had come to conduct a survey of the area for the airport. We have been hearing about the project for many years now, that it is going to be constructed soon,” says Satendra Kumar from Sabota village. He is interrupted by 24-year-old Ajay, who works as a driver at a local school. “You are 67 years old. The airport might not get built in your lifetime. I have been hearing about the airport for as long as I can remember. Governments come and go, so do such plans,” says Ajay.
Ajay’s concerns are not ill-founded. Conceived in 2001 when Rajnath Singh was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, the Jewar Airport project has seen several hurdles — mostly owing to a tussle between the central and state governments.
After the BJP, other parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) came to power in the state and tried to revive the plan. In 2010, the then chief minister Mayawati rechristened the project. But the UPA government at the Centre had objected, saying an airport in Jewar could affect business at IGI Airport.
Then the SP came to power in 2012 and moved a fresh proposal for the airport to be built in Agra. After concerns were raised by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over its proximity to the IAF base in Kheria, the project was altered. It was proposed that it be moved to Firozabad or then party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s village, Saifai. However, the project finally hit a roadblock due to differences with the Centre.
It was in 2014, when the BJP came to power at the Centre, that current Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma — elected as an MP from the Gautam Buddha Nagar Lok Sabha constituency — said the setting up of an international airport in Jewar was one of his top priorities.
Earlier this year — 10 months after the Ministry of Civil Aviation asked the UP government to conduct a fresh techno-economic feasibility and obstacle limitation survey — the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA) appointed engineering consultancy company RITES for the job.
The project was put on the fast track after the BJP won the UP assembly polls in March with an overwhelming majority. The state government then held a series of meetings with senior officials to review the project. “In May, the survey was completed by RITES. On the basis of the report, the Ministry of Civil Aviation provided clearance for the project,” says YEIDA CEO Arunvir Singh.
For more than 90 villages with a population between 5,000 and 10,000, the project is expected to provide much-needed employment opportunities in a largely agricultural belt.
“The airport in Jewar will not just provide domestic and international connectivity to NCR but also boost economic growth and employment opportunities in parts of western UP. There is an international Formula 1 racing track next to the site of the proposed airport. Plus, there are places of religious and tourist significance — Mathura, Hastinapur, Indraprastha — nearby. Once the airport comes up, multinational companies will establish businesses here and jobs will be generated,” says BJP MLA from Jewar, Dhirendra Singh.
Expected to be completed in six years, the first phase of the project will see the construction of a runway and a terminal, apart from development of transport connectivity via roads, rail and metro.
With the airport expected to be a source of additional revenue, not just for Jewar but also for UP, YEIDA is planning to set up a civil aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in the upcoming airport.
Although the Indian MRO industry is currently worth nearly Rs 52,000 crore, it still constitutes only a small percent of the global market. A senior YEIDA official said, “With the growth of domestic and international traffic, this project will be a very important source of revenue in the coming years. Right now, MROs in India are present in places such as Nagpur and Hyderabad. But they have not been very successful. As a result, Indian carriers end up going to Sri Lanka, Singapore and UAE for maintenance, repair and overhaul since they offer cheaper rates.”
The official added, “The facility in Jewar will be instrumental in ensuring Indian carriers get MRO facilities at cheaper rates, while also saving on the time and cost of ferrying carriers abroad. It will also carry out routine and timely checks to ensure airworthiness of the aircraft.”
“There is an abundance of land for the creation of such a facility. Moreover, it will generate additional jobs, which will boost indirect tax collections. All of this is key to the economic growth and upsurge in the coming years,” the YEIDA official said.
According to YEIDA officials, the first phase will include acquiring 1,000 hectares of land from nine villages in Jewar tehsil at an initial cost of Rs 2,000 crore. “To start the process of acquiring the land, we have asked the government to give us Rs 2,000 crore. We will ensure that the interests of farmers are taken care of and compensation directly given to them. The authority will start holding meetings with farmers, following which the process of acquiring land will be laid down,” says Singh.
With the airport expected to give the landscape of Jewar an urban makeover, industrialists believe the import-export business in the area will also receive a boost.
“Greater Noida and Noida do not attract international investors because of connectivity issues. In the coming years, not just the service industries, but a lot of import-export businesses will increase in the area. Apart from employment opportunities, the project will see the area develop into a commercial hub — a new city spread across a 100-km radius around the airport,” says Vipin Kumar Malhan, president of the Noida Entrepreneurs Association.
But with over 20 villages with a population of 57,000 expected to give land for the Jewar airport, land acquisition could be an uphill task. While YEIDA officials maintain that the process of acquiring land will take into account farmers’ interest, locals express doubts about rehabilitation as well as receiving compensation.
Even MLA Singh concedes that rehabilitation is a challenge. “Ensuring compensation for land reaches locals, as well as rehabilitation of those displaced, is going to be a crucial task. But we have been in constant touch with residents of these villages and they are aware of the project. In the coming weeks, more meetings will be held with them. As a local representative, I will ensure their concerns are taken into account. The land acquisition regulations of 2013 have provided a procedure and formula for resettlement and rehabilitation in cases of land acquisition. Those will be followed.”
At the tea-stall on the road connecting Sabota and Kishorepur villages on the Jewar-Bulandshahr highway, Lehri Singh wonders where he would move once the airport is built on his land. “I don’t know what plans the government has for us. My family has lived here for many generations. People say there will be jobs here, but where will I find another home?” Singh asks.
The last time Jewar was in the news — albeit for a very different reason — was in 2012, when the twin villages of Bhatta and Parsaul became the epicentre of discontent against BSP chief Mayawati and her government’s land acquisition practices. In the violence that ensued, several homes were burnt, many were injured and accusations of brutality were levelled against the BSP chief, who was eventually voted out of power.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had, at the time, sneaked into the two villages on a motorcycle, accompanied by former Congress leader Dhirendra Singh. Dhirendra has since joined the BJP and is the Jewar MLA, while the dirt road that Rahul had taken is now the Expressway.
As one Congress leader puts it, “The airport is like a metaphor for the changing political fortunes of politicians in UP. Everyone who came to Noida promised an airport. It was always the same story. Rahul had also made the same promise in 2012. But it was the BJP’s fate, perhaps. After all, it was Rajnath Singh who first came up with the idea.”
Road to sky
2001: Jewar Airport plan conceived under Rajnath Singh-led BJP government in UP
April 2003: Centre grants site clearance
2004: Following the election of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav as UP CM, plan is shelved due to tussle between Centre and state
2008: UP government submits a Techno-Economic Feasibility Report (TEFR) to the Centre. Report does not get approval. Civil Aviation ministry prepares a Greenfield Airport Policy for new airports in the country
2010: As CM, BSP’s Mayawati revives project under the name ‘Taj International Aviation Hub’ but no movement is made. BSP legislators meet then PM Manmohan Singh and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. Group of ministers is delegated to oversee the project but no headway is made. Concerns raised over the proposed airport’s proximity to IGIA
2012-13: SP comes to power in UP and fresh proposal for a Taj International Airport in Agra is moved. Ministry of Defence (MoD) raises objections since the proposed airport is close to the IAF base in Kheria. SP government proposes that the project be moved to Firozabad or Saifai
2012-2016: Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government proposes two international airports at Jewar and Agra. Tussle between Centre and state, with different political parties in power, results in delays and obstacles over site-selection
March 2016: Under Greenfield Airport Policy, 2008, UP govt submits fresh application to Ministry of Civil Aviation and Ministry of Defence for site clearance and aerodrome approval
June 30, 2016: MoD says its approval not required as site is not located on IAF land or within IAF’s restricted airspace
2017: 10 months after AAI and DGCA give nod to fresh ‘obstacle limitation’ survey (OLS), UP govt hires new concessionaire, Rites Limited, for carrying out survey. YEIDA releases Rs 60 lakh to Rites Limited for survey
March-April 2017: Following assembly polls in UP, BJP brings up issue of Jewar airport. Newly elected UP CM Yogi Adityanath holds review meetings with senior officials and pushes project
May 2017: RITES conducts OLS on around 5,000 hectares
June 2017: Civil Aviation Ministry grants in-principle site clearance