Since becoming the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh in 2017, Jai Ram Thakur has been persistently requesting the Centre for an international airport in Mandi district. In May 2018, a team of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) conducted a survey of the district for selection of a suitable site for the airport. A prefeasibility study was carried out in Ner Dhangu village in Balh tehsil, Basadhar and Gogradhar villages in Padhar tehsil, Nagchala village in Sadar Mandi tehsil and Nandgarh and Mobiseri in Gohar tehsil.
In June 2018, it was reported that 698 acres of land from Ner Chowk area in Balh could be finalised for the airport after a satellite survey confirmed the suitability of the site. However, in September 2018, it was reported that 1,401 acres from Nagchala village will be acquired for the project. The cost of acquiring this land was estimated at over INR 2,000 crore.
Soon after, on October 1, 2018, Balh Bachao Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (BBKSS), a group of farmers and land owners from Balh who came together under the banner to resist takeover of their land, organised a protest outside the district headquarters in Mandi. Hundreds of villagers and other political and nonpolitical groups also came out on the streets. They objected to the acquisition of 1,401 acres of highly productive land from Nagchala and claimed that about 2,000 families from nine villages would be displaced because of the project.
According to Paras Ram, deputy head of BBKSS, 80 per cent of the population in the area belongs to the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Communities. He claimed that if the project is pursued, these families would lose their homes and their relocation would leave them more vulnerable to exploitation.
Of the 1,401 acres proposed to be acquired for the airport, 1,217 acres is private land and 184 acres is government land. Most of the latter is part of the Balh Valley (Dohida) forest. In November 2018, the BBKSS submitted a memorandum to the deputy commissioner of Mandi and requested that instead of agricultural land, barren land should be acquired for the project.
In December 2018, a fourmember team of the AAI undertook the obstacle limitation surface survey at Nagchala. The objective of the survey was to identify all impediments to the project. This gave another push to the farmers agitation.
The BBKSS and the residents of Sundarnagar, Nachan and Balh towns protested outside the subdivisional magistrates office in Mandi. Through the magistrate, they submitted a memorandum to the prime minister and the chief minister requesting the government to spare the multicrop land of Balh.
Inprinciple approval to the project from AAI and the Ministry of Civil Aviation was granted in October 2019, following which the groups opposing the project voiced their demands once again.
The BBKSS has demanded that the National Highways Authority of India first complete the process of providing compensation to the oustees of the KiratputNerchowk fourlaning project at four times the market value of the land and implement the rehabilitation and resettlement policy and only then raise the issue of land acquisition for the Mandi airport. The organisation submitted another memorandum to the chief minister in November 2019.