Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Veteran Special Forces
HAL is an organisation comprising a workforce of over 32000 people, total asset of over 64000 crores and annual turn over of more than 17000 crores. Whenever anyone talks of HAL, the next image which comes up in every mind is that of the city of Bengaluru. Due to this, over a period of time, anything even remotely associated with HAL is claimed as a RIGHT by the City of Bengaluru.
Recently a request was made by the dynamic Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Shri Yogi Adityanath, to the Raksha Mantri Shrimati Nirmala Sitharaman, for organising the forthcoming 12th biennial AERO INDIA 2019 in Lucknow instead of the traditional site at Bengaluru. On hearing this, an enormous controversy erupted on the subject as if the move was akin to the abrogation of ARTICLE 35 from the Indian Constitution. Those batting for status quo reacted very sharply.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister had made the request as a sequel to the ongoing initiative on the proposed ‘UP defence corridor’. This Corridor has a potential of generating an investment to the tune of 50000crores and creating 2.5 lacs jobs. Aerospace unit is a major part of this plan spanning from Lucknow to Agra. Shifting of venue of AERO INDIA 2019 will be akin to shifting of ‘Defence Exhibition’ traditionally held in New Delhi, to first Goa in 2017 and then to Chennai this year. When initially proposed, the change had similarly generated a lot of controversies. The success of the expo at both the locations has now brought much-needed exposure for attracting foreign Companies and their investments. The visitors get a first-hand knowledge of the new place and its possibilities. The country also gains tremendously as there is further spread of development with the accompanied growth and prosperity, leading to ever smoothening of regional disparities.
Those defending status quo, site historical precedence of the show commencing in 1996 and gaining international fame, similar to international air shows, at Le Bourget in Paris, Farnborough in Hampshire, Dubai, Singapore and the biennial MAKS air show in Zhukovsky, Russia. However, their main points are just two. Firstly the location of HAL Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is Bengaluru Secondly, none of the International venues mentioned above have ever shifted their location.
No doubt, all the above international locations have over the years become centre of businesses offering airport and aviation services and so has Bengaluru. However, countries like France, Germany, and UK do not have to worry much about regional imbalances and Dubai and Singapore are just City states. Russians, on the other hand, do not want to give unnecessary access to foreigners to another part of their country. Hence the question of shifting the venue of their traditional Aero show does not arise.
Bangalore claims to be the home to Indian Aviation and Space as HQ of both HAL and ISRO happens to be located there. Naturally over the past five decades, there has been growth of a large number of design and development centres, with subsidiary manufacturing bases, within/in close proximity of the city. Coming of large aviation setups have given a boost to a large network of MSMEs coming up in the region. Bangalore has therefore gradually become a major base for the aviation industry. However it will be totally unfair to state (it will be like logic standing on its head) that all this development will get stymied or vanish in case Aero India show is shifted out.
Going down the memory lane, we need not be surprised to find that HAL was created in 1964 when a smaller entity Hindustan Aircrafts Limited, Bangalore was amalgamated with a larger consortium called the IAF Aircraft Manufacturing Depot, Kanpur. This consortium had then recently started setting up of new depots at Nasik, Koraputand Hyderabad. The Kanpur Depot was well advanced into manufacturing of transport aircraft HS 748 Avro ( still flying with IAF in fairly large numbers) for the IAF.In comparison Bangalore was just an overhauling depot, having manufactured just a few PC5 Harlow trainers way back in 1942. Some say that the Kanpur division had even designed a fighter but soon HAL POLITICS ensured its demise. Thus it is very clear that unlike Agra’s claim to Taj Mahal, Bengaluru has no claim to HAL, just because its HQ is located there. HAL is an entity spread all over India and so is ISRO. The State of Uttar Pradesh has equal and older claim over HAL. Most probably, HAL HQ came up at Bengaluru because of its location away from strike range of Pak and China, better weather than Kanpur, land availability and the most important the location of Indian Institute of Science.
Over the years the development process has rightly radiated outwards from Bengaluru to Hyderabad and Chennai. These two cities have also seen a major growth of design-manufacturing hubs. Even the Tata Group have set up their aerospace facilities in Hyderabad. A large number of commercial airlines have created their training facilities in these areas. So it is high time that situation should be created to further spread this development process to even cities in the North . The shifting of Aero India 19 to Lucknow will be the right catalyst to ensure the growth process along the envisaged UP Defence Corridor.
Holding of Aero India Show at Lucknow will provide a unique business platform where decision makers in governments both national and international, the public sector and corporate houses will congregate for new business. Lucknow is now well connected by Expressways with Kanpur, Agra and New Delhi. The Central Air Command is located nearby at Allahabad, Agra, Gorakhpur and even nearby Gwalior are major Indian IAF bases. The entire region is ideally suited for aerospace activities. Such show will help in attracting business ventures and through this event people in this area will get an opportunity to see aircrafts, avionics, and other services first hand. Visit by potential customers, large number of MSMEs and designers will lead to growth of the proposed Defence Corridor.
Statements of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and other officials have given hope to the new proposal, at least that it is being considered and not rejected outright. The air show-cum-exhibition is organised by the Ministry of Defence, therefore the state government cannot claim a permanent lien on the venue for the conduct of this event. In 1964 had Govt of UP had claimed and insisted similarly then HAL itself would have come up at Kanpur. The Govt of UP did not protest when ASC College and Parachute Regimental Centre both moved out permanently from Bareilly and Agra respectively to Bengaluru. So why this protest from Govt of Karnataka for just shifting of a biennial show. The next shows can be rotated once again to Bengaluru.
As it is the organising agency has the right to select the venue, and in this case the decision of the Indian defence ministry will be the final one. It must be understood that the aim of this mega event is to to give a fillip to the ‘Make in India’ initiative and make it PAN INDIA. There is a need to showcase the potential of existing untapped areas and ensure infusion of state-of-the-art technology. Agra and Kanpur are already on the international radar through their leather industry and of course the Taj Mahal. Now the intention is to make these cities globally competitive and part of the global aviation supply chain.
The growth of the Defence Corridor will propel the state government in implementing construction and infrastructure projects to assist the overall growth of the region. The airspace over Central Air Command still continues to be free of encumbrances of the type that have started plaguing international hubs like New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and even Bengaluru. Therefore Lucknow will happen to be an ideal place for the Aero India Show.
Changing the venue of the air show will be a great step for Make In India will showcase India’s potential fir becoming the manufacturing hub for entire world.
The article is written by Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Veteran Special. This article has been posted with the author’s permission. Views expressed are personal.