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India opens ultra modern airport terminal

NEW DELHI, Jul 3 – India inaugurated a multi-billion-dollar airport terminal in New Delhi on Saturday — a shiny glass-and-steel symbol of the country\’s aspirations as an emerging global power

The state-of-the-art hub, which cost nearly three billion dollars and can handle 34 million passengers a year, was showcased at a special ceremony by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of its mid-July public opening.

The airport was built in a record 37 months, with similar projects abroad taking more than 60 months, officials said.

"This airport terminal establishes new global benchmarks," said Singh. "It also highlights our country\’s resolve to bridge the infrastructure deficiencies in our country."

The prime minister said the project was an outstanding example of public-private partnership — seen as the most viable financial model for India to execute large infrastructure projects.

"We have proved the skeptics wrong in this area," he said.

Built to coincide with New Delhi\’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games in October, the terminal sprawls over four square kilometres (1.5 square miles) and boasts more than 90 automated walkways and 78 aerobridges.

"This is a demonstration of what India is truly capable," Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said at the inauguration ceremony at the Indira Gandhi International Airport that was also attended by ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi.

The facility, on which 40,000 workmen toiled, is India\’s third world-class airport after Hyderabad and Bangalore but dwarfs both.

It is the largest public building constructed in India since the country\’s independence from Britain in 1947, according to the consortium that built it.

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"It\’s an advertisement of India\’s ability to create world-class infrastructure," economist D.H. Pai Panandiker, who heads the independent RPG Goenka Foundation in New Delhi, a private economic think-tank, told AFP.

As Asia\’s third-largest economy after China and Japan, India urgently needs to upgrade its dilapidated transport infrastructure, including ports and roads, which is seen as a major hurdle to accelerating economic expansion.

"Overcoming our infrastructure handicaps will remove some of the major handicaps to faster growth," said Panandiker.

India\’s airline passenger traffic rates are among the world\’s highest and are expected to double over the next five years and the new terminal is part of government efforts to upgrade airports around the country.

Mumbai, India\’s financial capital, is set to get a new terminal by 2012.

India\’s fast-growing aviation sector has the capacity to draw 120 billion dollars in investment by the year 2020, Civil Aviation Minister Patel said.

The new terminal was built by a consortium headed by south India-based GMR Group that included the Airports Authority of India, Germany\’s Fraport and Malaysian Airports Holdings.

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