Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Tuesday (9 January) inaugurated an airport in the state’s southernmost district of Malkangiri, long regarded as a Maoist stronghold.
Spanning an area of 233 acres, the new airport with a 1,620-metre long and 30-metre wide runway has been developed at a cost of Rs 70 crore.
In the first phase, nine-seater aircraft are likely to operate from the airport, before it expands into handling bigger planes in subsequent phases.
Patnaik who had arrived at the airport on a plane just before the inauguration said that the aviation connectivity would usher in an era of development in the region and open up new avenues of communication, tourism and trade in Malkangiri and nearby areas.
A cluster of 151 villages in Malkangiri district, famously known as Swabhiman Anchal was considered as a ‘liberated zone’ by the CPI (Maoist) extremists similar to the area in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.
Smooth travel to the Maoist citadel has been a major challenge given its distance from the state capital and absence of railway network. It was only in 2018 that the Odisha government constructed a bridge over the Gurupriya River, formally establishing road connectivity to the cut-off area.
The new airport is the second major infrastructure push in tribal-dominated Malkangiri and has been completed in a record 14 months, with the Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar having provided necessary technical assistance for its operationalisation.
The recently inaugurated airport is set to substantially slash the travel time from the state capital, Bhubaneswar, to Malkangiri, allowing the journey to be completed in merely two hours compared to 14-16 hours by road.
With Malkangiri, the number of operational airports in the state has gone up to seven. The other six are located in Bhubaneswar, Jharsuguda, Rourkela, Jeypore, Utkela in Kalahandi district and Rangeilunda in Ganjam.