Monday, February 7, 2011

No new international airport is needed

When a realisation of sorts comes but a little too late subsequent to a mass agitation by the outraged, derided and trivialised people —- thousands of whom were about to be displaced from their ancestral homes —- one may describe it as ‘not bad’. As it has obviously transpired, the whole pandemonium and violence emanated from the Government’s capricious, unsound plan not based on proper survey of agricultural, economic, environmental and other crucial aspects; and above all, ignoring the all-important human factor.

It was not to hail the AL Government that the people of Alampur village in Munshiganj distributed sweets among themselves on February 3 after the cabinet decided that the airport will not be constructed in Arial Beel (a vast swampy wetland) against people’s will; in point of fact it was a celebration of the people’s struggle that began since December 24, 2010 both in Munshiganj and Dhaka against the irrational, highly expensive Government plan for a new international airport, an absolutely redundant project.

The ruling Awami League (AL) should have known that coming to power winning two-thirds of the parliament seats and enjoying absolute majority is no carte blanche: it is no free rein to choose whatever course of action one wants.

Over the past months incensed and infuriated masses —- to whom the Beel is an invaluable gift of Nature and the source of sustenance as its rich bounty of harvest helps them survive —- had been agitating against the government’s utterly inconsiderate and mindless wish without caring a fig for the sensitivities, realities and inevitable distress of the ordinary people. But when the authority stuck to their guns and advanced their plan the people under the banner of the Arial Beel Raksha Committee (ABRC), formed a human chain at Hasara demanding cancellation of the government’s move to build the proposed airport on farmland at an estimated cost of Tk 50,000 crore. Clash ensued with the law enforcers on the Dhaka-Mawa Road at Srinagar in Munshiganj on 31st January, resulting in the sad killing of a police officer and injury to more than a hundred people, including journalists and policemen. The ruling AL’s patent angry outbursts to scapegoat the Opposition BNP Chairperson were indispensably there to conceal its own misdeeds; cases were filed against a whopping 21,000 villagers including Khaleda Zia as instigator.

The people understand that the ruling AL high command is ill-advised by a bunch of spineless sycophants because of whom Sheikh Hasina’s government is committing one faux pas after another. Among politicos are radical diehards some of whom want to emerge as enfant terrible and wreak havoc doing much more potential harm and causing serious disservice to their party’s image than to themselves through their utterances.

We have no words to condemn the news of lodging case by a public prosecutor on behalf of the government against Khaleda with reference to scuffles between villagers and the law-enforcers in Munshiganj. This act is particularly reprehensible to accuse Opposition leader in Parliament of inciting violence when she was far away from the scene of occurrence. What a brand of democracy is it devoid of ethical values and minimum sense of decorum? It is a known fact that large masses of local people and environmentalists were eloquent in expressing their concerns that the project would affect their livelihoods, besides the ecology and environment. The government should remember that in a democratic dispensation it is obligatory on the part of the Opposition leader to strongly support the public grievances and sentiments against the airport project in Arial Beel. Such democratic criticism of a government’s action can never be an incitement to violence, whatsoever.

Experts in this field have made it abundantly clear through published articles that the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport —- which is now very much underutilised with about one-third of its full capacity in terms of usage by aircraft in addition to adequate space for runway expansion for the next 30 years. The bottom-line is: the country does not need another international airport at all for the next three decades.