Retd Lt Col M Ranjit Singh
Few days back, I saw a news item in a local newspaper about our Hon’ble Chief Minister writing to the Prime Minister of India for handing over the Old Koirengei Airfield to the State Government. The Chief Minister envisioned developing the Airfield into a historical site under Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat Scheme. I believe that this is a visionary move. The land is very much required by the State Government. All of us should welcome the initiative of the Hon’ble Chief Minister. Personally, I feel that the reason cited for reverting the land back to the State Government, however, is unconvincing and may not meet the strict requirements of the Defence Ministry. Moreover, there can be other uses for the idle airfield, say for instance, to overcome certain pressing problems for the common good. Before I put forward my argument, let us have a cursory look at the history of airfield as well as into certain modalities involved in the transfer of defence land.
A footnote on Koirengei Airfield:
There was no airport in Imphal when the Japanese bombed Imphal town on Sunday, the 10th May, 1942. In fact, the only airport in the North Eastern Region of India at that time was at Dinjan, near Dibrugarh. Koirengei Airfield was later constructed during 1942-43 with the help of American Engineers. The other two main all weathers airfields constructed in Manipur during World War II were the Tulihal and Pallel airfields. Three other fair weathers airfields were also made during this period at Thoubal, Sapam and Kangla Siphai. All these airfields did play a big role in saving Manipur from the clutches of the invading Japanese Army.
The runway for Koirengei airfield is 4900 ft. long and 138 ft. wide. The total area acquired for airfield from the Government of Manipur was 74.24 acres. Out of this, 56.36 acres was taken over from the State Government and the remaining 17.82 acres were acquired from 16 private land owners. Compensation amounts for the land was paid to the State Government and the individual owners by the then Army Department of India. One of the important clauses in the deed of transfer of the State Land to the Army was that the land would be reverted to the State Government when the land is no longer required for the purpose for which it was acquired. Though Koirengei Airfied was taken over by the Military Estate Officer, the Air Force was in charge of it.
After independence, Koirengei Airfield was used as a civil airport upto the early part 1959. After development of Tulihal Airport as a full-fledged civil airport of Manipur, Koirengei Airport remain unused. Later on, Air Force expressed its inability to safeguard the airfield as there are no Air Force troops in Manipur. The land was, therefore, handed over to the local military authorities in Manipur for its maintenance and protection. At present, the area is occupied by an army sub-unit with few temporary barracks. An area of 5 acres inside the airfield is also occupied by the Manipur Public School. Army claims that this as an encroached area. However, the State Government as well as the school authority maintains that the occupied area of land was procured from the Army through proper channel.
Transfer of defence land is a cumbersome process:
There are numerous idle Army lands in many States of India. Most of them are in prime areas of the State. There is a long list of requests from many State Governments for transfer of defence lands to the States. The competent authority for transfer of any defence land to any State government or Public Undertaking is the Cabinet Sub Committee. The procedure followed by the Defence Ministry for transfer of Defence Land to any State Government or Public Undertaking is, however, very cumbersome.
The main criteria for the transfer is that the receiving agency must hand over a piece of land to the Defence Ministry which is equivalent to the value of land being transferred. In cases where it is not feasible to give equal value of land, then the land in question is given on a lease agreement with fixed duration of time and rent. There are cases where defence land have been transferred to Public Undertakings by giving the market value of the land to the Defence Ministry. The living example is the Calcutta Metro Rail where few acres of defence land has been purchased by the Metro Authorities. In addition to this, there are more examples.
Take for instance, the Eden Garden Cricket Stadium and the Royal Calcutta Turf Club at Kolkata are also on defence land. And as such,the arrangement for occupation was done through proper lease agreements. Moreover, in the year 2016 there were newspaper reports about handing over of some portion of defence land at Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi to the National Highway Authority of India. This was for the purpose of highway expansion leading to the Delhi International Airport. Therefore, the point is, there are enough precedence regarding the transfer of defence land to the State Governments. But one (in this case the State Government) has to be mindful about fulfilling all the requirements (certainly in a correct manner) while taking up the case with the Defence Ministry. This is the most important action to be observed by the concerned State Government.
Convert Koirengei Airfield into a parking space for heavy vehicles:
This is where I differ from the logic of the Government as far as claim over the Koirengei Airfield is concerned. The general public, most notably the Chief Minister, is aware that the traffic at the stretch of National Highway 2 (NH2) from Chingmeirong to Koirengei is chaotically congested. Principal factor contributing to the traffic congestion at this area is the location of Oil Depots at Chingmeirong and FCI Godown at Koirengei. The ill-disciplined drivers of petrol tankers and heavy load carrying trucks park their vehicles on either side of the Highway creating unnecessary traffic jams. In addition to this, often, the long lines of convoy waiting for escort to move to Dimapur compounds the problem of traffic congestion. Hopefully escort requirement may not arise in the future as the political change in the Stateseems to indicate at the moment. However, one must always be prepared for any eventuality that may affect the NH2 – be it natural calamity or any other.
The point I am trying to make is that we do not have grand spaces for the parking of heavy vehicles inside Imphal. The Koirengei Airfield, which is presently lying idle, can be the best alternative. If this airfield is converted into a parking lot for the heavy vehicles, there can be normal flow of vehicular traffic on NH2. Otherwise, NH2 will continue to be choked and chaotic.
In other words, once the airfield is secured as a parking space, then loaded vehicles can move from here (obviously in turns) to their respective FCI Godown or Oil Depot or any destination. Even the loaded vehicles which are supposed to reach Paona Bazar or Thangal Bazar or MG Avenue may be allowed to park at Koirengei. Through strict regulation and at specific hours (say at a fixed time during the night), these may be allowed to move to their destinations. Once the Governmentof Manipur has secured the transfer of land, we may think about developing link roads. Take for instance, a link road between Luwangsangbam and Koirengei to Achanbegei and Heingang passing through the airfield which is currently lying idle/unused. These are possibilities for the common good.
Basic & timely home work:
“Nothing beats preparedness” is an ancient military strategy which modern management gurus are adopting in every sphere of work. This demands doing some basic homework when one,including the Government, goes for the kill (as a figure of speech). In the context of transfer of land of the Koirengei Airfield, as homework, the State Government needs to engage in 3 (three) possibilities.
First, it needs to take action on the assumption that the Defence Ministry or the Government of India will not agree to transfer the land without appropriate compensation either in kind or cash. The basis for calculation of land value to be transferred from the Defence Ministry to other agencies is based on the average cost of land sold near the surrounding areas of that particular land during the last 5(five) years. The Defence Ministry invariably will quote an exorbitant price for the land. The State Government must be ready to pay the cost of the land being quoted by the Ministry.
The second option is to transfer a piece of land to the Defence Ministry, which is equivalent in value to that of the land at Koirengei. The land being transferred to them must also be useful to the local Military organisation. In this case, the land required by the Army may be the one which is contiguous to their existing land at Leimakhong. The State Government must identify land which is contiguous to the Leimakhong Garrison and acquire it in order to transfer to the Defence Ministry. This exercise has to be carried out in consultation with the local Military authorities. This will be an unwieldy exercise as it may affect agricultural land and individual owners are most likely to oppose vehemently. Furthermore, opposition is likely to raise it head under the slogan of “Stop Militarization”.
Of course the third option, which is the best one, is the repossession of the Koirengei Airfield by the Government of Manipur without paying anything to the Defence Ministry. Historically, the land at Koirengei was granted to the Military during the World War II to be used as an airfield. The land is no longer used as a military airfield. Therefore, the State Government has every right to approach the Defence Ministry to demand the return the land as the same has not been used for the purpose for which the land was transferred.
The 3 (three) options briefly discussed above are certainly reference points. It is left to the wisdom of the Government to opt any not necessarily what I have presented which are deemed more effective. Whatever be the case, the idle airfield needs to be acquired for the common good. Once again I wholeheartedly appreciate the initiative of the Hon’ble Chief Minister. Manipur certainly needs land. At the same time, what is of paramount importance is the efficient management or utilization of land.
(The writer is the president of Manipur Equestrian Association)
Source: The Sangai Express