Bangalore’s much-awaited new airport is finally opening this week, though the supporting infrastructure around it isn’t yet ready, according to the New York Times:
The way things stand now, the trip to the new airport, 21 miles outside town, will easily take 90 minutes from the city center, and even longer from the software companies that have turned Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru, into Indiaâ€™s own Silicon Valley.
Indiaâ€™s famously sluggish bureaucracy has meant that workers are only now scrambling to finish widening the main road to the new airport. The city water supply has yet to reach the area, making it impossible to begin construction on the shops and office towers that are supposed to sprout around the airport. Even though airport officials were ready to open on schedule, in March, air traffic controllers said they needed more time to train. Late Wednesday, airport officials said they had been told by the government to postpone the opening by one day, to Saturday. (link)
The words “famously sluggish bureaucracy” are, of course, de rigueur in any article on public works in India, a little like travel writers mentioning the heat. It’s a truism that is so true, it sweats.
In this case, though, it’s not just the government that has bolloxed this up. The airport was actually built and designed by private shareholders (including Siemens), who have operated under the assumption that the old airport, closer to the city center, will be closed once the new aiport opens. But given the incredible growth in the demand for air travel in India (and in Bangalore in particular), the new aiport may not be big enough after all, and the group Bangalore City Connect is calling for the old airport to remain in operation in parallel with the new one. I think that makes sense — why throw away an existing facility?
And of course there is a controversy around widening the road to make an expressway from the city to the airport. One elderly man, quoted by the Times, is clearly furious about the plan to displace him from his bungalow for the project:
One lawsuit holding up the expressway project concerns D. M. Dwarkanath, a retired executive of a state-owned company. He risks losing his small bungalow to make way for the route. A hospice for children with AIDS is also threatened.
Such cases have sown deep resentment among many people here, who wonder: Why do people have to make way for Indiaâ€™s frequent-flying classes, which are still relatively small? â€œIt is only for the rich people,â€ Mr. Dwarkanath said fuming. â€œThey donâ€™t have patience. They want to rush to the airplane. They want to sweep everyone out of the way. Why should we live? Sweep us into the sea!â€
I sympathize with Mr. Dwarkanath. That said, “only in India” would we hear about the opening of a fancy, state-of-the-art airport — with no way to reach it!