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Tourism industry faces heat with abrupt flight cancellations

Agra/Mathura: Agra and Mathura's tourism and travel industry have been clamouring for better air connectivity to major destinations across India and direct flights to international tourist hotspots for decades. However, instead of enhancing flight services, airlines have recently disrupted existing routes from Agra to Ahmedabad, Bhopal, and Jaipur, sparking outrage within the local tourism sector.

In April, IndiGo attributed these cancellations to a shortage of aircraft. This explanation has been met with widespread scepticism, as flights to these cities were consistently full. Tourism industry leaders argue that these sudden suspensions severely disrupt the long-term planning and scheduling of itineraries.

"Sudden terminations and the absence of a commercial terminal with free and unhindered passage through the air force area have badly hit air traffic to Agra, which remains India’s tourism mascot," says Sunil Gupta, Chairman of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, northern region.

Agra, home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with the religious shrines in Mathura and Vrindavan, attracts millions of visitors year-round. The local tourism industry fears that the lack of reliable air connectivity could further tarnish Agra's image and diminish its appeal as a prime tourist destination.

According to the president of the Agra Civil Society, Anil Sharma “Steeped in spiritual and historical significance, the region’s modern infrastructure needs have been overlooked, especially regarding air connectivity. Over the past decade, Agra's civil society has fervently called for a dedicated civil airport to accommodate the city's substantial foreign tourist traffic—the highest in Uttar Pradesh. However, political promises have repeatedly fallen short, leaving citizens disillusioned. During the 18th Lok Sabha elections, Agra's electorate voiced their frustration, criticizing politicians for neglecting the essential airport project.”

Promises of a new civil enclave at Agra's airport have not materialized. Despite claims of Supreme Court clearances, actual construction has been stalled. Activists say that work on the unused 55 acres already sanctioned, should have been initiated long back in a phased manner to avoid further delays. “But, the bureaucratic hurdles persist, with the Airport Authority seeking additional permissions for further land use.”

The stalled project has had dire consequences for local agricultural labourers. With farming halted on the acquired 147.5 acres, many have lost their livelihoods, further exacerbating economic hardships. The government’s compensation for landowners did not extend to these workers, leaving them without alternative employment.

Social activists are now pushing for transparency and accountability. They have requested the installation of information boards at the proposed construction site to keep citizens informed about progress. Additionally, they have urged the Uttar Pradesh government to form a legislative committee to investigate the delays and clarify the project's timeline.

The state government has completed the acquisition of an additional 92.5 acres for the airport, with funds allocated for construction. Yet, instead of initiating work on the previously approved 55 acres, a new consultant has been appointed to replan the entire 147-acre project, causing further delays.

Agra's potential as a profitable civil airport hub remains untapped. With each passing day, the city's tourism and business sectors suffer from the lack of air connectivity. The call for action grows louder, as Agra's citizens demand that their city’s modern needs be met without further excuses.

The fact has also been ignored that Agra and Mathura have the highest footfall of foreign tourists than any other place not only in UP but in the whole country. Therefore expansion of road and air connectivity here is a contemporary need per local needs, says the tourism industry.