Many hurdles in the way of India’s 100 airports plan

By Long Xingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/9 12:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Recently, Indian Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said that India plans to construct 100 new airports with an investment of nearly $60 billion in the next 10 to 15 years. Such "ambitious" plans have not been rare in India, but most of them were not implemented or were put on the back burner. Will the plan for the 100 new airports be an exception?

India has maintained high economic growth in the past few years, with a middle class population of 300 million. Therefore, they hope their mid- and long-distance travel can be faster and more comfortable. However, India's high-speed road construction is in its initial stages and the condition of ordinary roads is barely satisfactory. The railways in the country is slow with a bad safety record.

Indians with better spending power will not choose trains and buses for travelling. Taking flights will be a more realistic choice. Therefore, India has the fastest growing domestic airline industry in the world. In the next 10 years, India will become the third largest aviation market, only next to China and the US.

Meanwhile, existing airports in India cannot meet the ever-increasing demand. Expanding and building airports and purchasing more planes is a pressing matter.

The outlay of investing $60 billion in 15 years to build airports is not that huge. India had drawn quite a number of magnificent infrastructure plans such as the Diamond Quadrilateral high-speed rail network, the Golden Quadrilateral highway network, international development proposals including the Mausam and the Spice Route projects. They are either being implemented slowly or have been left incomplete. Therefore, both domestic and international opinion is cautious about the latest airport plan.

There are multiple reasons for hurdles in implementing India's infrastructure plans. First, the large-scale infrastructure plans are announced with elections in mind and lack sufficient research and assessment. Officials pay little attention to whether these plans can be carried out.

Also, such proposals were planned hastily, so the source of funds was not looked into well. Government financing is limited, and private and foreign investment is not used, which makes these projects lack financial backing.

Demolition and land expropriation is another thorny issue in India. As land ownership is privatized in the country, demolition and land expropriation needs negotiations between government and owners. If the owners agree, it is still a long task. If they do not, the government can take them to court and the litigation process consumes a lot of time. If the government forcibly demolishes houses, it faces mass protests and the opposition parties seize the opportunity to defame the ruling party.

Moreover, Indian domestic enterprises lack sufficient technological capabilities. They are not independent in terms of equipment, construction techniques and management experience. They have to sign contracts with foreign companies or seek their support. But the involvement of foreign enterprises will touch upon issues such as law, standards and visas, which slows down the projects.

But still, there are positive prospects for the "100 airports" plan. Besides the huge potential of India's civil aviation market, a few positive factors make the plan possible.

First, private funding can be involved to ensure there is sufficient money. According to reports, these airports are to be constructed through public-private partnership.

Second, land for airport construction is relatively easy to obtain. The construction of high-speed rail and highways requires the acquisition of vast swathes of land and demolition involves many provinces across the country. Comparatively, the scale of demolition and land acquisition for building airports is much smaller.

If the ambitious plan can be implemented smoothly, it will not only meet the travel demands of the Indian public, but also help the country augment infrastructure on a massive scale. Ultimately, it can serve as a catalyst for India's economic development, especially in the manufacturing sector.

The author is a senior research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.

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