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Keep politics away from ‘Dabolim-Mopa’ Conundrum!

“Savio, Mopa airport decision is a political decision. Neither you nor I can do anything about it or reason with the government on this,” expressed a former Airports Authority of India (AAI Director) who had done the first feasibility study on Mopa (at that time his brief was only Mopa as the Central and State government felt Dabolim with its restrictions would saturate). So I retorted, “So should we just allow the Centre or State ignore the facts because of politics.”

Dabolim-Mopa conundrum has been in the pipe-line since 1998 (GoaChronicle.com has in its position documents of the meeting when the decision for Mopa was finalised). The first time the people agitated, Centre & State (Under Congress) decided to retain Dabolim for civilian operations (but tactfully ignored commercial operations) which meant private-jets or helicopters not scheduled airlines. That however was noticed last year and the BJP now in the ruling has pushed the Centre to retain Dabolim Airport (with documentary evidence) and the Centre on its part has put Mopa on a fast-track process. These steps indicating that Centre & State are both working towards the Mopa airport. Second, they have answered the people’s query to retain Dabolim Airport and even spent Rs 550 crores to build a new airport terminal.

If Dabolim & Mopa are both to co-exist. Then there should not be any apprehension from the people of Goa (especially South Goa). Yet the Dabolim-Mopa issue has to come to the fore with now the current Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar of the BJP surging ahead with the land acquisition and RFQ for the Global Tender. This time though the agitation is moving with another valid moot point. The moot point is based on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) report which clearly states that ‘dual airport system is the second-best option’. It also stresses, ‘if political compulsion’ form the basis of the decision making process. This report being the second report, first one of course focussed purely on Mopa (because Dabolim according to ICAO 2005 report would be saturated after 15 years or a threshold of 7 million plus passengers at Dabolim). ICAO as a report is clearly  focussing on Mopa being the main airport. It decided to consider Dabolim, because of the Anti-Mopa agitation around 2005 and a brief by the Goa government to look at the dual airport model, therefore in its ICAO 2007 report it takes a stand saying dual airport is second-best option. And quite frankly any aviation expert will tell you that single-airport system is a small passenger load point like Goa is the best option. But nowhere in the ICAO report does it say that dual-airport system is not an option at all. And that is what the Centre and State are using as their moot point.

The biggest fear that many people have in South Goa is that Mopa Airport would be the eventual closure of the Dabolim Airport and the subsequent failure of the South Goa Tourism and Business market. That fear of Mopa being the single-airport is not unreal, it is very real; without Dabolim Airport, South Goa Tourism is finished. Also the point that with another airport in Goa, Navy could up the ante on demanding for the hand-over of Dabolim to the Indian Navy, since Goa already has Mopa. That is also a very real fear, Navy for defense purpose can do that and might do that as well. Because it is not necessary that a Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) approval should be abided by the Ministry of Defense (MoD). Also with a private-player investing a large sum into an airport infrastructure project, there is all possibility that a demand for a single airport be made. Though this fear can be easily taken care-off by stipulating that Mopa project continues with Dabolim in the RFQ of the Global Tender. If someone still goes ahead with the Mopa project as a developer even though Dabolim exists, then has it not so much the airport revenue that is driving his business interests, but then non-airport revenue. That is why the developer will end-up to be a consortium of a real-estate developer who would tie-up with an airport development and operating company to run the airport operations but the real estate business will off-set the eventual non-viability of the airport operations even if we set up a cargo hub, MRO centre or airlines to set-up hubs in the Mopa Airport.

The reasoning that Goa will need an airport in the future because of increasing numbers depends on how we want to position Goa in the coming years. If Goa needs to become a metropolis like Singapore, which every political party has been advocating, then Mopa will need to become a reality with Dabolim. But is that what Goa should become. Goa being modelled around Singapore is probably the wrong assumption in the first place. Goa can develop in the economic spectrum but it is not about the quantity but quality of our positioning. We can become a tourism centre, healthcare, education and even IT major player; for which we would need related infrastructure but when do we start planning for an infrastructure if we do not have a plan.

Centre’s focus has been to develop all states in keeping the overall growth, for them Mopa is looked at benefiting both Goa and South Maharashtra. And to a certain extent the State governments felt that it would propel economic growth in Goa, that’s how Mopa came about. The question is nobody ever defined how economic growth in Goa was to happen. If just by building the airport, economic growth would be spurred on, is old-school thought with today’s competitive global scenario. Goa must define its economic growth and plan infrastructure around it. It’s a clear chicken and egg situation.

As GoaChronicle.com we have spent considerable time to understand the conundrum and even discuss it with global experts. It is only through discussion that we can move ahead and not political upmanship. Mopa is not an urgency at this point of time. The urgency is to plan the future of Goa and then work towards it. And the future of Goa must be decided for by the people of Goa to benefit Goa first and then if need be other parts of India. You cannot grow apples to feed the neighbours and leave your home starving and deprived.

I hope the time we spent on understanding the conundrum and putting forth our research and discussion with the State and later next week with the Centre; will make them realize that Mopa airport needs to be linked to Goa’s overall development plan which would be acceptable to the people. You cannot turn Goa to Singapore if the people do not want it.

I am glad the CM is putting his details on a website and is open to a discussion. Post that we need to go in for an opinion poll and then let Goa decide on this important aspect of their future.

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