The plan for building an international airport in Kushinagar was conceived in 2008, under the rule of Mayawati as the Chief Minister. Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site where the body of Gautama Buddha was cremated. It became one of the four holy places declared by the Buddha to be fit places for pilgrimage . The place is mainly connected by the road. Although, there was already an old airstrip, spanning 97 acres in Kushingar, which handled small aircrafts, it was not enough to meet increasing volume of tourists from across the world. The government had hence taken a decision to develop an international airport in the city . This airport would consist a runway of about 3,200 metres, so that it could even handle Boeing 747 flights from Saudi Arabia, Korea and Japan and cater the entire region spread across UP, Bihar and Nepal .
The project, integral for the integrated development of the entire Buddhist circuit, was to be built under the public-private partnership (PPP) mode on a design-build-finance-operate-transfer (DBFOT) basis [3, 4].
However, Kushinagar International Airport had faced a lot of problems when the project was conceived. While on the one hand the developers were finding the project to be ‘unviable’, despite the fact that it has been ‘sweetened’ by the state government, on the other hand, farmers of the twelve villages from which about 453,238 acres needed to be acquired around the existing airstrip were against it. Sporadic protests and agitations had been marring the government’s efforts so far . The land required for the airport site is cultivable land and the farmers who own the land were not willing to give their land for the project. Farmers from two villages feared losing their land and homes to the airport site, whereas farmers from six more villages may lose their cultivable land. Farmers alleged that the compensation that the government was giving was not sufficient to buy land at other places . In the end, however, the government was able to acquire 584.65 acres by 2011-12 .
The proposed project was granted a Viability Gap Funding (VGF) by the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India. In the 43rd Meeting of the Empowered Institution for the Scheme for Financial Support to Public Private Partnerships in Infrastructure, the central government gave an in-principle approval for a VGF of Rs 70.93 crores (20% of the project cost). The State Government of Uttar Pradesh had already expressed an additional support up to 20% of project cost. Therefore, the Total permissible VGF in this project would be approx. Rs 140 crores. The preliminary estimated total cost for developing the minimum specification of the proposed international airport development works out to Rs. 354 crores. The land for the development of the Kushinagar international airport will be given to the selected project developer for a 50 years (30 year 20 year) concession period.
The project, initially estimated to come up over 700 acres for Rs 75 crore, was revived in 2012 with the cost Rs 350 crore and land requirement of 550 acres only.
In 2015, the state government of Uttar Pradesh decided to take the support of the Airport Authority of India to build the airport, since the earlier public-partnership model hadn’t been successful in seven years . According to this new decision, the state government would have borne about 40 per cent of the project cost, along with providing land on lease, logistic support and concessions to other investors, the Centre had approved 20 per cent viability gap finding for the airport and the AAI would have funded the rest. In March 2017, the new state government under Yogi Adityanath approved an additional sum of Rs. 50 crore for the project . In November 2017, this government also released the entire budget of Rs. 200 crore for making the airport operational by mid-2018 .
In February 2018, the union minister for civil aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju addressing the UP Investors’ Summit said that 56 new airports will come up in India in the next 15 months, with 9 of them being in Uttar Pradesh. The push for airports in India continues to be on the rise, and currently there seems to be no more protests by the farmers whose lands were acquired earlier.