On February 27, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, inaugurated the Shivamogga Airport, named Kuvempu Airport, at Sogane village, about 8.8 kilometres away from Shivamogga district headquarters. It has been a dream come true for prospective passengers and the public at large as this event has finally ended the prolonged wait. In a way, Kuvempu Airport’s commissioning has paved the way for a mega aerial entrance to the Malnad region comprising the picturesque Shivamogga, Chikkamagalur, and parts of Hassan and Davanagere districts.
BSY’s Political Will
BS Yediyurappa, former Chief Minister for four different tenures, is the sole factor in enabling the decades-old dream project. In fact, preparations for the airport began way behind in 2006, leading to a PPP agreement, cancellation of the same, fresh retender, formation of a new state company and ultimately completion of the project. At last, the Rs 450 crores project, spread over an area of 662.38 acres, saw the light of day.
Kuvempu Airport is bound to be a game-changer to the beneficiaries of neighbouring districts as they were compelled to go to either Mangaluru or Bengaluru travelling more than six hours for air connectivity. The Malnad districts are also a bastion for areca nut, cardamom, coffee, coconut, pepper and other such commercial crops. It also goes without saying that the new airport will augment in multiple ways in enhancing the opportunities for trade and commerce along with generating employment opportunities.
On April 4, 2006, a team of experts from the Airports Authority of India (AAI) visited the two identified sites. Sogane near Nagarbavi village and about 8.8 kilometres from Shivamogga and Ayanur village nearly 8.2 kilometres from Bhadravathi were these two sites. However, the experts favoured Sogane as the most preferred one due to its wind directions and velocity conditions. But, the concern was that the land was uneven and had to be levelled to the requirements. On the other hand, the site near Ayanur turned out to be inadequate in terms of width for a runaway.
Companies Evincing Interest
BS Yediyurappa, as Chief Minister, laid the foundation stone on June 20, 2008, for phase-I construction. Nineteen companies evinced interest and came forward to develop the airport in response to the Expression of Interest (EoI) notified by the State Government to develop Kalaburagi, Vijayapura and Shivamogga airports. The project was awarded to a consortium led by Maytas Infra Ltd, NCC Infrastructure Holdings Ltd (NCC), and VIE India Project Development and Holdings on November 15 2007 on a BOT basis. Then, according to the agreement, the concession period was for 30 years with a clause of a further period of 30 years by a mutual agreement.
Shivamogga Airport Developers Private Limited (SDAPL), a special purpose company, was established to sign the Project Development (PDA) with the Infrastructure Development Department (IDD) of the Government of Karnataka. The shareholding pattern of Maytas Infra, NCC and VIE was 37 per cent, 37 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively, in SDAPL. The project development agreement was signed on December 21 2008.
Change in Shareholding Ratio
Interestingly, due to a change in the project shareholding, another supplementary development agreement was signed on December 21 2010. Regional Airport-Holdings International Limited (RAHI), a Bengaluru-based company, acquired 22 per cent of the Project, overall management and financial control.
However, in January 2015, the government decided to annul the land allotment for the airport on grounds like “indifference and infighting” among the promoters. Thanks to such a callous attitude, no construction work had begun at the Shivamogga airport, compelling the government to retender the Project.
Relaunch of the Project
BS Yediyurapa, again as Chief Minister, relaunched the delayed project on June 15, 2020. Following the cancellation of the PPP agreement, due to delays in execution, tardy progress and termination, the onus again fell on the shoulders of the State Government to complete the project.
The State Government acquired 662.38 acres of land for the project, while Rs 58.3 million was released for acquisition and development. The Government paid compensation of Rs six lakhs per acre for dry land, Rs seven lakhs per acre for wetland farmers and Rs two lakhs for peasants tilling government lands. About 130 acres of private land and 530 acres of government land were required for the project. Affected families living in the project area were provided compensation and alternate housing. The Land Lease Deed, signed on December 21, 2010, commits the lessee to pay a rent of Rs 20,232 per acre annually to the Government of Karnataka and the total amounts to Rs 13.4 million. Also, the lease rent will increase by 10 per cent every three years during the lease period.
Set for International Flights
Kuvempu Airport has the longest runway of 3,200 meters after Kempegowda International Airport Limited (KIAL), Bengaluru. It goes without saying that it would soon be an international airport. The airport boasts of facilities to operate Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 type aircraft and can handle 300 peak-hour passengers. Although the airport was expected to be completed by 2022, it was inaugurated on February 27 2023.
A Big Challenge
Gaurav Gupta, Additional Chief Secretary and Secretary, Infrastructure Development Department (IDD), Government of Karnataka, and the catalyst behind the project is a happy man today. A sense of contentment hints when he says, “Shivamogga Airport project was a real big bottleneck as the structure itself was an engineering challenge and puzzle as never before such structure was envisaged. The bigger challenge was about a State Government ensuring it and the hurdles included getting a license for proceeding ahead.”
Kudos to PWD
Throwing light on the project, Ramarao Manjunath Chavan, Aeronautical Engineer and documentary filmmaker, opines, “Shivamogga Airport is a testimony to the age-old proverb, where there is a will, there is a way. Shariff, a local contractor, undertook the hazardous task of completing the civil works and the beauty was when there was a lull of activities across the country, during the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, airport work went on uninterruptedly and incessantly. The Public Works Department initiating and executing the Project by itself is a great laurel to the Department.”