Incident could affect Madurai getting international connectivity: Trade bodies

The recent tension over the presence of Sri Lankans in Tamil Nadu has caused trade bodies in southern districts worry over the prospects of international connectivity for Madurai as the first full-fledged international flight was scheduled from Colombo on September 20. While not going into the political aspects of the controversy, the trade bodies here, which had been campaigning for years to get international flights as a means to boost economic activity in the region, have expressed concern that if the first overseas flight were to get delayed or scrapped, it would have long-term negative consequence for Madurai Airport getting international connectivity.

B.S.G. Musthafa, president of Travel Club, told The Hindu that following the Sri Lankan Government’s negative advisory, there has been an immediate 40 per cent drop in passenger traffic from Tamil Nadu to Colombo.

This would have a dramatic impact on the many sectors heavily dependent on tourism in Tamil Nadu such as textile, jewellery, surface transport, airline and handicrafts.

“Everyday, there are seven flights between Chennai and Colombo and three flights between Tiruchi and Colombo with 2,800 passengers travelling between Colombo and Tamil Nadu. Most of the visitors come here for purchase or on pilgrimage.”

He expressed hope that the recent incidents would not affect Budget carrier SpiceJet’s plans to start services between Madurai and Colombo from September 20.

S. Rethinavelu, senior president of Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urged the State Government to provide an assurance to Sri Lankan visitors that they would be given security and also that the trade activities would be safe.

“With the onset of India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, bi-lateral trade between the two countries is flourishing and stood at US $ 5 billion with exports from India to Sri Lanka being eight times more than the imports.”

The struggle for obtaining international connectivity to Madurai, he said, had been long and was a hard-fought facility. This one development has the potential to cast Tamil Nadu in a negative light that would hinder the economic prospects for a long time.

Also, this international connectivity could provide the much needed boost for industrialisation of southern districts, which have a low industrial base.

He urged the State Government to work with the Centre and impress upon Sri Lanka to withdraw its travel advisory to Tamil Nadu.

The Chamber was taking a trade delegation of 50 members in the first flight itself to Sri Lanka to meet their counterparts, officials and Ministers to further improve the bi-lateral trade and investment between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, he added.

N. Krishnamoorthy, chairman of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Madurai Zone, said that people should not mix politics with business.

The recent controversies should not cloud the fate of the Colombo-Madurai flight as being the first international connection to the region, it had the potential to boost tourism and the broader economy of southern districts as well.

In view of unpleasant incidents, Sri Lanka has issued a travel advisory to its citizens against visiting the State. After the soft launch of Madurai airport as an international terminal, when two chartered flights from Malaysia landed here recently, SpiceJet was scheduled to be operating the first regular international air service.

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