Multiple local sources in Hogaldanga village alleged that the land office officials concerned have cheated marginal landowners by devaluing their land
Although land acquisition for the project has been completed and construction of a boundary wall is ongoing, albeit at rather slow speed, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) is yet to start the main work on the much-hyped project.
The government initially acquired 102 acres of land to build the airport on “short take-off landing” system at Foyla near Rampal in 1996 following a demand of the people of the southern region, according to official sources.
However, the construction of the airport remained dormant for a long time for reasons unknown. Returning to power in 2008, the Awami League government resumed its construction.
In 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held out an assurance of constructing the airport as a full-fledged one to be named as “Khan Jahan Ali Airport” in response to a demand by local businessmen and people of the area.
In 2015, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the airport project at an estimated cost of about Tk544 crore. Of the amount, the government is providing about Tk490 crore while the CAAB will come up with Tk54 crore.
After the Ecnec’s approval, the district administration began work on acquiring 529.85 acres of land afresh for the project. After acquiring the land in Bagerhat, the district administration handed it over to the CAAB on August 17, 2018.
Since then, local businessmen have alleged, there has been no significant progress in the work of the project.
Meanwhile, expressing frustration over irregularities in land acquisition for the airport project, multiple local sources in Hogaldanga village alleged that the land office officials concerned had cheated marginal landowners by devaluing their land.
Maria Begum, 30, a resident of Hogaldanga village in Rampal upazila, said: “The government has taken my only piece of land on which I had built my home. The compensation I received isn’t enough to buy a new piece of land nearby.”
Rampal Upazila Nirbahi Officer Sadhan Kumar Biswas said: “Almost all the land in Hogaldanga village has been marked for acquisition for Khan Jahan Ali Airport. Meanwhile, many of the landowners are concerned as they are yet to receive their compensation money.”
Mansur Mallick of the same village said he had received Tk5 lakh in compensation. “For this I had to pay Tk50,000 to the land office.”
Mahmud Moulangi wasn’t compensated for his house. He received Tk24,000 for his chicken coop for which he had to pay Tk5,000 to the land office.
Urging the government to immediately complete the construction of the airport, Md Liakat Hossain, President of Bagerhat Chamber of Commerce, said: “ A fast communication network could be created for expansion of trade and commerce centering on Mongla port, the Sundarbans, tourism, shrimp industry and Rampal Power Plant if the airport is constructed.”
However, during a development review meeting held at the Khulna Development Authority auditorium on October 1, urban planners from Khulna University (KU), Khulna University of Technology and Engineering (Kuet) and Bangladesh University of Technology (Buet) nominated Khan Jahan Ali Airport as a small-scale airport.
Dr Rezaul Karim, former KU dean of urban and rural planning, said: “Once the construction of the Padma Bridge is completed, the need for Khan Jahan Ali Airport will be reduced. Besides, the airport’s proximity to the Sundarbans will disrupt the normal lives of the animals there. That is why we are discouraging the construction of an airport there.”
CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said the authorities were working on the project, which is being implemented under Public Private Partnership (PPP). “The construction of the boundary is nearing completion and soon the main work on the much-hyped project will begin.”
The purpose of the airport
Once constructed, the airport will play a vital role in establishing fast and uninterrupted communications with the Mongla Export Processing Zone (EPZ), Mongla Economic Zone, Mongla Port and Rampal power plant.
It will also contribute to the development of the country's tourism sector as tourists will find it easier to visit the mangrove forest and other places of interest like the Shat Gombuj Masjid in Bagerhat.
The airport will also facilitate sending and distributing relief materials in case of any natural calamities, the proposal adds.
Khulna has never had an airport. Its nearest airport is in Jessore, some 70km away and around two hours' journey from the city.