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Prez's Meghalaya visit mired in controversy

October 16, 2008 18:21 IST

The first visit by President Pratibha Patil [Images] to Meghalaya is mired in a political controversy after her office cancelled the inauguration of the Baljek airport in West Garo Hills scheduled for October 23.

During her two-day visit to the state, the President's Office, which had listed the inauguration of the airport in her itinerary, cancelled it citing technical reasons. However, the President would attend the public reception thrown on her behalf at Tura, district headquarters of the West Garo Hills.

The sudden cancellation had opened up a Pandora's box as the Nationalist Congress Party accused the Congress of manipulating President Patil's itinerary and having a hand in the cancellation of the inauguration.

The President would arrive in Shillong on October 22 on a two-day visit to Meghalaya. Her visit would be the second visit by any President, after the late President Dr Rajendra Prasad visited the area in 1952.

Meghalaya State Planning Board chairman and NCP leader Purno A Sangma, who was angered by the sudden change in Patil's itinerary, was now toying with the idea of asking Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to inaugurate the Baljek airport.

"This is an emotional issue for the people of Garo Hills and the cancellation has hurt our sentiments," Sangma said, hinting at the Congress party's interference in scuttling the inauguration.

"You see, the credit for getting the Baljek airport operational would have gone to the NCP and the Congress certainly does not want that to happen," Sangma added.

On Wednesday, Chief Secretary Ranjan Chatterjee told a high-level review meeting, attended by Chief Minister Donkupar Roy, Purno A Sangma, Finance Minister Conrad Sangma, and high-ranking police and Army officers that the Baljek airport inauguration by the President had been cancelled but she would attend a public reception in Tura and the centenary celebration of Bengali Girls Higher Secondary School in Shillong on October 23.

However, Chatterjee said the decision to cancel the airport's inauguration was taken due to the "unavailability of aircraft" and its "economic viability".

"If the President can attend the centenary celebration of a secondary school, why she cannot inaugurate the airport which is meant for the convenience of the people in Garo Hills," Sangma wanted to know.

Washing its hands of the incident, Congress spokesperson R C Laloo said, "Sangma should not blame the Congress for the cancellation of airport inauguration." He said the inauguration was cancelled because of "technical reasons" and Sangma's party man Praful Patel is the civil aviation minister.

However, Conrad Sangma said the civil aviation ministry had already allotted an airplane for the inauguration day but the cancellation has upset the expectations of the people in Garo Hills.

'"A team of civil aviation officers have already arrived at Baljek and told us that the airport is fit to function, '' Conrad said. 

Meanwhile, P A Sangma left for Garo Hills on Thursday to meet NCP legislators and senior Garo residents and decide on whether the community should register a protest against the cancellation.


UNI


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