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Hope soars as Second World War airport in Assam takes commercial wings

The commercial flight that touched down at Rupsi airport, 38 years after the last one was operated.   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

An airport built for warplanes in 1939 took commercial wings on Saturday, heralding the best of times for western Assam’s Dhubri district during the worst of times.

Rupsi airport near Gauripur, about 15 km from district headquarters Dhubri, was one of South Asia’s largest airports with a 1.8 km runway used by Allied aircraft for supplying arms, manpower and ammunition to forces in Burma and China during World War II. Commercial flights were allowed later.

India’s Partition in 1947 began eroding the airport’s importance. It was abandoned after the last flight – a Vayudoot from Dhubri to Guwahati – took off in 1983.

“It feels nice to be a part of history, and I hope the service is sustained for the sake of a corner of Assam that lost its importance as the regional communication hub soon after Independence,” Gauripur MLA Nizanur Rahman said.

The All India United Democratic Front leader was one of the passengers who alighted from the 72-seater twin-engine turboprop touched down from Guwahati at 12.10 p.m. The flight took off for Kolkata at 12.40 p.m. and returned to Rupsi at 4.10 p.m. en route to Guwahati.

Flybig, an Indore-based company, would be operating the Kolkata-Guwahati-Rupsi flight under the subsidised UDAAN scheme for regional connectivity.

“Work on reviving the airport began in 2019. The return of the COVID-19 scare had dampened our spirits, but the flight happened despite the odds to make our hopes soar,” Dhubri-based Bimal Oswal, the president of Rupsi Airport Revival Demand Committee told The Hindu.

“Rupsi is vital not only for western Assam. It used to and again will cater to the people of western Meghalaya, Cooch Behar and Alipurduar districts of West Bengal and south-western Bhutan, besides fuelling small-scale industries,” he said.

Jyotirmoy Chakraborty, the committee’s general secretary said they had been fighting for the airport for more than 15 years.

“Dhubri used to be the gateway to the northeast during the British area. It was a strategic river port (the Brahmaputra flows by Dhubri town) and an important stop on the pre-1947 railway line through present-day Bangladesh next door,” he said.

Partition virtually turned Dhubri into a prisoner of geography. The river port was closed after the India-Pakistan war in 1965 and the railway service suspended in 1988. The East-West Corridor connecting the northeast with India’s “mainland” through Kokrajhar district to the east also reduced the dependence on the old highway via Gauripur.

“Railway service resumed in 2011 after gauge conversion and the river port at Free India Ghat (Dhubri town) was revamped in 2018. We are now awaiting regular inland water service via Bangladesh, like in the pre-1965 days,” Mr. Oswal said.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 5:10:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/hope-soars-for-ww2-airport-in-assam/article34515377.ece

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