BARIPADA: A strong sense of resentment is brewing among people of tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district over the neglect meted out to Amarda airstrip at Rashgobindpur. The airstrip, which was used by British and American troops during World War II, is lying abandoned since long with both the Central and State governments turning a blind eye to its plight.
While five airports/airstrips of the State have been selected under the Centre’s regional air connectivity scheme UDAN, no steps have been taken to revive the one at Amarda, located 45 km from the district headquarters town.
As per reports, the Defence Ministry had decided to set up an Air Force training centre for fighter pilots in 2008. Former General Officer Commanding in-Chief Lieutenant General Jayanta Kumar Mohanty visited the abandoned air strip in December, 2008 and had expressed satisfaction over the suitability of the area for setting up the training centre.
Officials of Rashgobindpur tehsil had also conducted survey and demarcated land for the centre in February, 2009. As per the survey report of tehsil officials, at least nine families of Devsole and Rashgobindpur panchayats had to be displaced for the project and the Defence Ministry had even decided to compensate the affected persons.
However, the project had to shelved as the Ministry required about 1,300 acres of land to set up at the centre and the airstrip was spread only over 160 acres. While the project did not materialise, hopes of revival of the airstrip were also dashed.
Amarda airstrip was built by the British in 1940 at a cost of `6 crore. After partition, a large number of refugees had taken shelter at the airstrip, sources said.
Social activist and chairperson of Antardaya Chetanamandal, Rangamatia Aditya Pattnayak claimed that repeated missives to the Central and State governments for restoring the airstrip have yielded no result. The airstrip has now developed cracks and is covered with wild vegetation, he said.
The airstrip, which is situated on the border of Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts, languishes in oblivion barring election time when it is used for landing choppers and aircraft carrying political leaders to the district for campaigning, said Hrudananda Giri, a senior citizen of Khuruntia village, located near the airstrip.
The airfield is on the verge of extinction due to lack of maintenance. Moreover, the airstrip land has been encroached by some unscrupulous persons. People also ply heavy vehicles through the airfield unauthorisedly, Giri added.
The British constructed the airstrip to counter Japanese air attacks from Myanmar during the World War. Fighter planes and bombers of the British and American Air Forces used this base to carry out full-fledged aerial attacks.
If Amarda airstrip is included in the UDAN scheme and given a facelift, it can be used as an effective air defence base to protect the coastline. This apart, it will also provide air connectivity to the people of North Odisha.
Bhubaneswar airport and the airstrips at Rourkela, Jharsuguda, Utkela (Kalahandi) and Jeypore (Koraput) have been included in the UDAN scheme. While Jharsuguda airport is set to start flight operation from June 14, the airstrips at Utkela, Jeypore and Rourkela are likely to be get clearance from the Civil Aviation Ministry soon.