Friday, June 17, 2011

Do We Need Delhi's Nod To Let Bhutan Use Our Airstrip?

The government of Bhutan is reported to have shown interest to use Lalmonirhat airstrip now lying abandoned for long and the land being used by local farmers to grow crops.    But the indication that once Dhaka receives a formal request from Bhutan it would seek New Delhi's approval for the deal has come not only as a surprise to many in Dhaka but has also come as a profound shock.    Bhutanese minister for communication and information Lyonpo Nandalal Rai visited Bangladesh on May 19 with a 14- member business delegation and saw Lalmonirhat and Saidpur airports. He later said his country is interested to use Lalmonirhat airstrip to facilitate connecting commercial flights having several business outreach in mind.    "We will approach neighbouring India if necessary after a formal proposal from the Bhutanese government for use of the airstrip as transit route," Civil Aviation minister GM Qader reportedly told a local daily last week.    He said the government is thinking about a proposal from the civil aviation authority to operate commercial flights from Lalmonirhat. Analysts here say Bhutan may or may not be given the permission to use Lalmonirhat airstrip but any reference to Indian involvement in the process is an unheard of proposition. Bhutan is interested to use it as a transit stop over for its international flights, which is situated over 1166 acres of land and having a 6000 feet runway. The British government had built it in 1939 during the Second World War and since it has largely been lying unused. However it is now under the control of Bangladesh army.    Bhutan is using Dhaka airport as well for regional flights, the sources said. Initially Lalmonirhat may be used to operate domestic flights, private airlines will be offered landing permission free of charge in order to encourage their flights to and from there, Qader said. The Bhutanese minister said Lalmonirhat may be used as a transit for its international flights since it is very close to his landlocked country. He said international flights operated from Bhutanese capital Thimpu often become risky due to foggy weather and rainy condition.