Not terminal illness but Kolkata’s airport snafu goes on

Kolkata’s grand airport already reeks of apathy and callousness. And that’s not good for the city’s ever-sleeping image.

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Puja Bhattacharjee | June 24, 2013



It’s not every day that Kolkata, Dominique Lapierre’s City of Joy turned Left and now Mamata Banerjee’s City of Anxiety Attack Syndrome, gets a new infrastructure that can boast of being among the best in its class. Dented and daunted by a city where public infrastructure is as rusty and rickety as its famous beat-down old tin buses, Kolkatans had high expectations from the newly constructed terminal of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport.

The average city resident – or even ‘probashis’, that much-discussed and often as much derided tribe of Kolkatans now settled outside the state but who never stop flaunting their love for the city, this writer being a member of this growing tribe – saw the new terminal as a class unto itself. Especially for a city where everything moves at a snail’s pace.

After a long delay, the terminal was finally thrown open to the public earlier this year – designed to revamp the look of Kolkata, it is meant to act as a grand welcome for those arriving in the city.

But sometime after the terminal was opened for use, complaints began pouring in – trickling in at first, and gradually flooding in. Critics cited Delhi’s Indira Gandhi international airport (IGIA), developed and maintained by a private consortium, and derided the earlier Left Front government for giving the project of modernising Kolkata airport to the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

I didn’t delve too much into it. Critics, I thought, would criticise, and coming from Kolkata, I know there are people whose feel-good quotient lies with running down others. For me, the new terminal meant Kolkata reimposing itself – one nano step in its efforts to shake off the dust, find its feet and stand tall among other metropolitan cities. Again.

This being the first time I was flying in after the new terminal was opened, I was eagerly peeking out of the window to catch a glimpse of it right from the moment the plane touched down. Till then I had only seen pictures on social network and got very good reviews from friends who had flown in to the city since the new terminal’s inauguration.

The huge terminal was empty when I landed in the morning. As the crowd of passengers started growing around the conveyer belt, and within minutes of it starting, a big suitcase got stuck at the mouth of the shaft. A siren began screeching in protest. In a hurry to collect their luggage and leave after an early-morning flight, people around the belt kept looking around to see if any airport staff member was coming to rectify the problem.

The staff present close by looked puzzled – they seemed more tourists than the travelers, many among them tourists. Finally, one staffer managed to climb on the belt and move the suitcase.

Okay, I told myself, it happens.

But I had spoken to myself too soon, it seems, for the problem recurred after a few minutes. While the technician was summoned this time, the annoyed passengers decided to take matters in their own hands. A man climbed over the conveyer belt which had been stopped and removed the luggage from the mouth of the shaft. I collected my suitcase and came out of the airport.

My next challenge was to summon the car that had come to pick me up. The arrival terminal is located on the ground level and the departures terminal at the first level. But for a car coming in from VIP Road flyover (which leads to the airport), it is impossible to know that. Reason: lack of proper signages. I had to wait quite a while as the car kept taking the flyover to the first level, unable to figure out there was a different road for the arrivals section.

While I had been told by fellow passengers about the ill-kept washrooms and other problems, I cannot vouch for the lack of maintenance because I did not experience them. But the two problems I faced, while not gigantic, had apathy and callousness writ large over on them. For such a grand airport, it’s no small change, however – the authorities need to look in before it relapses, and turns into the old airport terminal.

With all its problems, the old airport terminal was still acceptable. It came gift-wrapped in nostalgia and the feeling that you had to take of the old and the infirm. But when I see a chic new airport with the same problems, as a Kolkatan at heart I feel disheartened. While the rest of the country has made rapid progress, Kolkata still seems to be stuck in the 1980s. Maybe the authorities need to try harder to pull the city and the state from the deep slumber.

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