Dubai: Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, today promised direct Dubai-Bhubaneswar flights very soon.
“I would like to announce to all of you that very soon, you should have direct flight from Dubai to Bhubaneswar,” Patnaik said during an interaction with the Odia diaspora in Dubai today.
Odia expats present at the venue reacted with a huge applause and a standing ovation, followed by slogans praising the chief minister who has been heading the state for 22 years now — one of the longest-serving chief ministers of any Indian state.
VK Pandian, the Private Secretary to the chief minister, who moderated the interactive session, informed the audience that the CM had already proceeded with a “viability gap funding” for Dubai-Bhubaneswar flight operations. Direct air connectivity between the international airport in the state’s capital of Bhubaneswar and Dubai has been a long-pending demand of Odia expatriates in the UAE.
According to Patnaik, who is the first Chief Minister of the state to visit the UAE, around 100,000 Odias live in the UAE.
Subsidies for airlines
Speaking to GulfNewsSuresh Chandra Mahapatra, Chief Secretary of the government of Odisha, explained that under the viability gap funding plan, the state was offering subsidies to airlines willing to operate direct flights between Dubai and Bhubaneswar.
“The subsidy scheme is offered for new destinations that need not be initially remunerative. The state government gives subsidies for three to six months, based on the total number of seats on a monthly-basis. The flight operations are expected to become financially viable within that period of time, he said. “After that, they won’t require our help.”
The subsidy is given to domestic and international flights operating to Odisha to both Indian and foreign airlines. He said the scheme was introduced for international flights to Malaysia and Thailand two years ago and has been extended to domestic flights since. “We have been giving it for Bhubaneswar to Jaipur for the past three months. Similarly, we have applied for Goa and Surat.”
The state government deems it a necessity to ensure better air connectivity for the overall development of the state and for keeping air travel affordable for the citizens, he said.
The majority of Odia expats in the UAE are blue-collar workers and the government is aware of the expats’ difficulties in catching connecting flights to reach home after traveling for about 12 to 14 hours, he said.
Earlier, the state government had recommended to the Government of India for approval from the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation to operate direct flights between Bhubaneswar and Dubai. “Unfortunately, we haven’t got it yet. So, now, again we are trying.” He said the subsidy was expected to help passengers get air tickets at cheaper rates. “We are also trying to promote tourism in Odisha, projecting it as a nature-tourism destination and wildlife-tourism destination. We will recommend for the license from the ministry and we will have one-to-one negotiation with the airlines regarding the subsidy.”
Housing scheme, NRO office
During the interaction, Patnaik also promised to consider a housing scheme for Odia expats. “It is a very good suggestion. We will certainly consider that,” he said in reply to a community member who suggested the scheme. The CM said he would also consider a suggestion to start an NRO office to assist expat blue-collar workers.
In his speech, Patnaik urged Odia expats to be the state’s ambassadors abroad. He also explained various initiatives by the government for the development of the state in multiple sectors.
Dr Aman Puri, the Consul-General of India in Dubai, in his speech lauded the Odia expat community members for keeping their culture and traditions alive. He also appreciated the efforts of the community organizations to repatriate and support fellow citizens in distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, Minister of Co-operation of Odisha, and Debiprasad Mishra, member of the State Legislative Assembly were also present.