Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the Government had drawn up an ambitious programme to build a network of 100 small airports in the small cities and towns of India to give a boost to the economic and industrial development of these areas.
Laying the foundation stone of the first such airport at Kishangarh, near Ajmer, in Rajasthan, he said airports were, until recently, considered a facility for only the rich.
But air connectivity had now become a pre-requisite for development and lack of such facilities could impede progress, he said.
Dr Singh said the people of Rajasthan and around Ajmer and Kishangarh would begin to see the benefits of the new airport when it is completed by 2016.
He said the number of air travellers had grown dramatically in the country to around 16 crore at present and the number was expected to go up to 30 crore by 2020. He said massive efforts were needed to build airports and other infrastructural facilities to meet this growing demand. He said the Government had decided to involve the private sector also in this effort.
Dr Singh said Rajasthan attracted tourists from all over the world because of its rich cultural heritage, natural beauty, glorious traditions, proud history and unique art forms.
He said Ajmer attracted visitors of all religions to the famous Hazrat Khwaja Moniuddin Chishti shrine. He said there were also other major attractions in the state such as the Brahma temple and the annual fair at Pushkar as well in places such as Chittaurgarh and Nagaur.
He said Ajmer and many of these other places did not have air connectivity, and the nearest airport for people planning to visit them was in Jaipur, some 150 km away.
He said the completion of the airport would give a boost to tourism and pilgrimages and enable the region to make rapid economic and industrial growth.
He said the message of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was one of peace and harmony, which had assumed added importance at a time when some parts of India had witnessed communal violence.
Dr Singh said nobody had ever gained from hatred and violence. He said India is known for tolerance and respect for all religions and different views.
He said people of different religions, communities, languages and tribes had lived in peace and harmony through the ages in India and the only way forward for the country was to strengthen and adhere to these traditions.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, Union Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot, Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot were amongst those present on the occasion.