An airstrip in Bali hamlet near Ulundurpet, which was built by the British during World War II, lies in a state of ruins and has turned haven for anti-social elements and encroachers.
The abandoned airstrip, which was used by the Food Corporation of India as an open grain warehouse until 2012, has fallen prey to criminal elements as well as locals, who use the space to rear sheep and goats.
The airfield is replete with history and sources said, in the 1930s, the British had set up several warehouses in Ulundurpet and Villupuram, from where grain was sent to the Cuddalore and Madras harbours for export. After World War II broke out in 1939, the British government built the aerodrome here to secure their warehouses in the area. The 5-km runway, which used to be the largest in South Asia, was one of the major targets for the Japanese and housed over 25,000 ground and air troops during the war.
Giving a sketch of the aerodrome’s history, Lalith Kumar (38), a writer from Ulundurpet said, “After World War-II started in 1939, the British took over lands from farmers and the aerodrome was constructed in 1940. Surrounding villages of Bali and Sengurichi were evacuated and the airstrip became operational in 1942.”
The strip is now used by NLC as a helicopter landing pad, besides playing host to drunkards.
S Velu (40) of Sengurichi village said, “As the stretch lacks security, drunkards use it as an open bar. Prostitution is also carried out in the area.”
While crime thrives on one side, encroachers have usurped the entire north side of the entrance, where they rear sheep and stock hay.
Locals urge the government to take steps to end its misuse and put it to better use. M Arumugam (75), a farmer from Bali village said, “If the government sets up an air cargo centre here, it would provide employment to many locals.”