Thursday, March 7, 2013

Aranmula Airport: its potential ecological, social and economic impacts



                              The proposed Aranmula Greenfield Airport:
its potential ecological, social and economic impacts -
a preliminary appraisal

Dr. V. S. Vijayan
Sálim Ali Foundation
Trichur

The report presents the major impacts of the proposed airport on the biodiversity and ecology of the wetlands and paddy lands in Aranmula and its adjoining villages along with an analysis of the tangible and intangible benefits of this significant ecosystem. It further analyses: (1) the EIA conducted by Enviro Care, India Pvt. Ltd for the  KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd, who proposes the airport; (2) the need for an airport at Aranmula and, (3) the inevitable need for restoring the paddy land and resuming paddy cultivation in the area, which was mostly abandoned in the area for a few years for reasons not attributable to the farmers. Economic aspects are not covered in detail; only those aspects related to wetlands and paddy lands are dealt with.

1)      A Chennai based  business group, namely KGS Group, known as KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd is proposed to build a private Greenfield Airport    in an area extended to Aranmula, Kidangannur and Malapuzhaserry villages, Kozhencherry Taluk, Pathanamthitta District, Kerala (Fig. 1, 2a & b). 
2)      The area required for the proposed Airport is 500 acres as given in the EIA report and also the papers submitted to the Government of Kerala. But in their website it is given as 700 acres. ( www.kgsaranmulaairport.com)
3)      The total cost is estimated at Rs 2000/ crores. Reliance group will have 15% stake in the project
4)      The need for the Aranmula Airport, according to the proponents as given in the EIA report are:
a.       “Aranmula is centrally located in between the existing International Airports at Thiruvananthapuram and Cochin at about 138 Km. The proposed Airport will have a direct influence to the central Travancore region”
b.      an airport in Aranmula  would  serve the increasing demands  of air passengers from Pathanamthitta, Kottayam , Idukki and some parts of Alappuzha  districts. “Out of the foreign and domestic tourists’ arrival to Kerala, these four districts together accounts for about 21 per cent of foreign tourists and 14 per cent domestic tourists”
c.         the proposed  Airport will provide infrastructure to Sabarimala pilgrims who wish to travel by air
d.      an airport in Aranmula would serve the travel requirements of non-resident Keralites, foreign and domestic tourism and, 
e.       the airport in Aranmula will be a great facilitator for  the Maramon Convention, one of the biggest conventions of Christians accounting for about 1,00,000 pilgrims
Resources needed for the Aranmula Airport
According to the available information and EIA report of the KGS Airport Ltd, the project would require:
5)      500/700  acres of land, out of the 500 acres, about  400 acres are paddy fields (Aranmula Puncha) and wetlands
6)      12,000 litre/day of water during the first phase, and 58,500 litre/day during the second phase The total requirement of raw water for this airport will be 7.55 KLD,
7)      A 23 m wide four lane approach road from the Aikkara Junction to the terminal building and, from Parumoottumpadi Junction to Aikkara Junction. For both, land has to be acquired. 
8)      The power requirement during the  operational phase in the first phase would be  2 MVA and, in future 4.0 MVA
9)      The major materials required are steel, cement, sand, metal, bricks, flooring tiles/stones, artificial wood, sanitary and hardware items, electrical fittings, water, etc (quantity has not been given anywhere in the EIA report).
10)  Massive quantity of sand  for filling the vast expanse of paddy field, around  400 acres
Impact of the project on the ecology of the area
11)  The rapid assessment carried out by the Sálim Ali Foundation (SAF) brings out the salient features of the ecology of the area; the irreparable damage that the airport will cause to the ecosystem, biodiversity and the people. On the whole four days were spent in the field making direct observations, discussions with local people individually and in groups.  The team comprised four members, one each of a botanist and   fish expert and, two ornithologists/wetland experts.
Biodiversity
12)  Only three aspects of biodiversity; plants, fishes and birds - the major aspects of biodiversity of the area, could be covered within the limited available time.
13)  Plants:  On the whole 212 species of plants were recorded from the area. Of these, 27 are endemic to the Western Ghats and 110 are economically important, mainly for its medicinal properties. Of the 212 species, 88 are wetland species which include those found along the earthen bunds and in wet areas (Annexure 1).
14)  Fishes: In total 60 species, including those reported in the present and earlier studies were recorded from the area (Annexure 2). Out of which 42% of the fishes are endemic to the Western Ghats; 6.6 % endangered and 5% vulnerable. 48% are of commercially high value fetching exorbitant prices in the market. The species such as Wallago attu, Channa marulius, C. striata, Labeo dussumeiri, and Horabagrus brachysoma are highly sought after.  Among these, Labeo dussumeiri is an icon of Pumba fishery resources and it is  endemic to the rivers feeding the Vembanad lake. About 10 % of the total species found are of  ornamental value.  It may be noted that 35 species are migratory; migrating from the river Pumba to the paddy lands and wetlands for breeding.
15)  Birds: The present study recorded 80 species of birds,  while 85 were recorded in 2006 by the Kottayam Nature Society. Both together, 103 species have been located from the area (Annexure 3). Of these,  8 species are migratory and two, namely Oriental Darter and Black- headed Ibis, are in the Near Threatened category of the IUCN.
                                              Ecosystem of the area
16)  The puncha paddy fields and wetlands in Aranmula, Mallappuzhassery, Kidangannur, Elanthur, Mezhuveli and in the adjacent  villages (fig. 3, 4)  form the flood plains of river Pumba  and have become an inseparable part of not only the overall   ecology of the area, but also the   culture and heritage of this area.
17)  As the proposed airport area and the contiguous paddy lands and wetlands are the flood plains of river Pumba, they   serve as natural flood control in the area whenever the river Pumba overflows, reducing the impacts of flood on the local population and their lives considerably.
18)  On the onset of monsoon in June when the water began draining into river Pumba, a large number of fishes migrate upwards against the current to the wetlands and paddy fields   for breeding.  The wetlands act as ground for egg laying, hatchery and nursery. In September when the activities for puncha initiates, they migrate down into river Pumba which act as feeding ground.
19)  For centuries, water from paddy fields and wetlands that spread over Aranmula, Mallapuzhassery, Kidangannur, and the adjacent villages used to be drained into river Pumba through Valiyathodu also known for some distance as  Kozhithodu before it joins river Pumba (Fig. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

20)  When an earthen approach road was constructed across Valiyathodu at Nalkalickal to facilitate renovation of Nalkalickal bridge, it acted as a bottle-neck for the flow of water both-wise,  between river Pumba and  paddy fields. 

21)  As a result, water from rain and   overflow from the Valiyathodu, got stagnated in the paddy fields making it impossible for farming.

22)  The deteriorating ecological condition of the Kozhithodu also adversely affected the water flow. Soil erosion and high degree of siltation have made the Kozhithodu almost non-functional (Figs. 5 & 6)

23)  Construction of the air strip has aggravated the gravity of water logging  in most parts. Farming was forced to be abandoned in most areas since 1999.

24)  Purchase of pieces of paddy lands here and there for the airport since the last 10 to 12 years or so has fragmented the padasekharams, making farmer collectives difficult to function.

25)  Aged and experienced farmers who have been farming for generations in the area claim that the yield of paddy used to be around five tonnes per hectare in the area which was corroborated by the officials of the local Agricultural Department.
            Intangible values of the Wetlands and Paddy fields that would be lost
26)  The most significant loss, due to the proposed airport in Aranmula, will be   the disappearance of a large extent of wetlands and paddy fields, that too in a State that produces hardly 11% of the total requirement of rice.
27)  The total area of wetlands that would be reclaimed is not clear. The area that the KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd.  require is about 500 – 700 acres. The area notified as Industrial Area by the Industrial Department is 500 “acres”. Whether it is 500 acres or hactares is not clear. Using the survey numbers included in the Notification, a map was prepared by Mr. Sreeranganathan, Retd, Sr. Artist/Photographer of the Rubber Board who is a resident of Aranmula  (Fig 2b.). The total area, according to this, is about 500 ha, out of which the wetland is about 214 ha. Since the KGS group has asked 500 acres (202 ha) in the first phase, all analyses are based on the 500 acres.

28)  One of the most significant values of these paddy lands and wetlands, not yet measured but experienced, is the contribution that they make in maintaining the water level in the wells and ponds in the villages around.

29)   These wetlands and paddy lands serve as reservoirs, maintaining the water and drain it into river Pumba during the lean period, thus functioning as a natural irrigation system. 

30)  Even if no cultivation is made, and if the paddy fields are left as such, their ecological services go unhindered.  The water levels in the wells and ponds in the neighbouring villages continue to be maintained.

31)  Local residents of the area, especially farmers are quite aware of these and, hence are their strong protests against the destruction of wetlands and paddy fields in the name of an airport.

32)  These services of the wetlands are called “intangible services” or “indirect services”. There are many more such services, significantly at least 14 of them, such as climate control, soil erosion,  carbon storage, waste treatment, nutrient cycling, raw material, food production, genetic resources, recreation  and cultural.

33)  The global average ecosystem services of the wetlands are estimated at Rs. 7, 39,250/ha. Since our wetlands are much more complex, this value will be 3-4 times more. Accordingly the annual ecosystem service values of the wetlands that would be lost for the sake of airport will be between Rs. 35.48 crores and 47.31 crores. In other words the people living in the area get ecosystem services worth Rs. 35.48 to 47.31 crore annually.
34)  It is to be necessarily considered , that the  impact of filling and raising the wetland area for the airport does not confine only to the earmarked 400 acres but goes  beyond, affecting all the wetlands and paddy fields over 3500 acres, as it completely bloc the water movement.

35)  Therefore, the total loss of ecosystem services  should be calculated for the entire area, i.e.;  for  3500 acres (1417 ha) which would come to Rs. 314 to 419 crores

36)  To provide these ecosystem services, even if they are just impossible, the cost would be unimaginably high. And, quite impracticable

Tangible benefits of the wetlands in Aranmula and its adjoining villages

37)  Tangible or direct benefits from a wetland include among other things, production of fish and paddy.

38)  In the present area of 1457 ha, if converted back into a cultivable state, the farmers claim that they could produce nothing less than 5 tons per ha puncha, amounting to 7085 tonnes annually.  If the procurement price is fixed at Rs.15/kg, it would be worth Rs.  10.63 crores. And, if it is organically produced, it can be at least  just the double, i.e.; around Rs 21 crores

39)  Since the puncha cultivation requires only four months, middle of December to end of April, there is sufficient time left for fish culture. Dr. Padmakumar, Fish Expert from Kerala Agricultural University, advises that a minimum of two tones of fish per ha could be produced annually. At the rate of a minimum Rs.40/kg, in the 1417 ha, the fish production would be worth for Rs. 11.34 crore.

40)  Accordingly, in the area earmarked for airport, (400 acres) the rice and fish production, would be 800 tonnes of pucha and 320 tonnes of fish; worth Rs. 1.2 crores and 1.28 crores respectively.

41)  Therefore the total benefits from the paddy fields and wetlands from the proposed airport area (160 ha) would be Rs. 37.96 to 49.79 and, from the total wetlands and paddy fields that would be affected by the airport (1417 ha) would be Rs 335 to 440 crores per year.

42)  Please note that these figures are tentative, but minimum. The figures on paddy lands are collected from various sources, including the Agricultural Department, maps prepared by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, Google maps, and the map prepared by Shri. Sreeranganathan of Aranmula.

Dislocation of families

43)  Total houses that fall within the area declared as industrial area are not yet physically counted.  Nor is there any mention of this in the EIA report of the KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd. The houses that could be counted from the satellite map show 780 houses (Shri. Sreeranganathan, personal communication). Many of the houses would not have been captured in the satellite as they are under tree cover. There would be at least around 1000 houses.  If we consider an average three members in a house, the total number would be around 3000. How many of them have to be evicted are not clear. The EIA Report (page 119) categorically records that the existing population in the area has to be evacuated. But yet it fails to mention the number of people to be evacuated.


44)   Apart from this,  since  a 23 m wide four lane approach road    from the Aikkara Junction to the terminal building and,  from Parumoottumpadi Junction to Aikkara Junction have to be laid as per the  EIA report,  all the houses within this area on either side also have to be  evicted and, the  land acquired. This is not mentioned in the EIA report.

                                             
Water requirement of the project
45)  Water requirement of the project would be 7.55 KLD which the EIA report says (page34) would be met both from its own bore wells supplemented by the Municipal supply.
46)    Exploitation of the ground water will make the situation further worse, as the wetlands, the source for charging the water table, will be reclaimed for the airport.
Loss and damage to the cultural heritage of the area

47)  The Airport will further destroy the cultural heritage of the area as several age old historic temples and sacred groves are situated within the Industrial Area declared by the Government

48)  The famous Aranmula temple, about 1500 years old, is just within 200 meters from the borders of the Industrial Area notified.

49)  An airport in Aranmula would completely change the serenity and peaceful life of the people. There are, it appears, proposals for techno-park, smart City, info-park, Textile Park, food park multi-speciality hospitals and what not after the declaration of setting up the Air port.

Booming prices for land

50)  All these have helped only the land mafia.  Ever since the proposed airport was declared, we were told, the land cost in the area has gone up several folds. A cent costing just Rs. 5000 a year ago in this famous temple town currently demands Rs. 50,000/ to 1, 00,000/. The land mafia is up.  As a result, a small piece of land for a common man in the village for construction of a house has become near to impossible
Environment Impact Assessment of the KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd.
51)  As per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006, the KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd.  got an EIA done through a private agency, namely Enviro Care, India Private Limited, based in Madurai.
52)  The EIA is quite forthcoming when it deals with the  structure and design of the airport building, the number of passengers expected to be using it in the first and final phase; the facilities for car parking, the number of  cars expected to be parking and taking off; the physical features of the area, such as maximum – minimum temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind rose diagrams, wind speed, air quality, noise environment; the physico-chemical properties of the soil and water;  and a sewage treatment plan.
53)  However, when it comes to the biological scenario, the report is appallingly bereft of facts and figures. And it appears the EIA team has not taken even the  minimum required efforts to document the biodiversity
54)  Still worse is when it talks of the ecology; nothing is given on the ecological impact. This cannot be considered as a shortcoming or in-deliberate omission, as the EIA was done for a project that would completely devastate the paddy lands and wetlands amounting to an eco-catastrophe in the area.
55)  The statement on vegetation (page 87), supposed to have been based on a survey of 10 km radius of the airport, claims the dominance of species of which except one (Euphorbia hirta) are neither present nor expected to be present in the area.  The unedited list of plants as presented in the Report is given below:
prosopis Juliflora, Cassia auriculata, Morinda coreia, Borassus flabellifer, Cissus, Prosopis Juliaflora, Acacia niolotica, A.planifrons, A.auriculiformes, A.ferruginea, Zizipus Jujuba, Z.mauritiana, Z.xylophyrus, Morinda coreia, E.Corrigiologides, opuntia dilleii, Agave angustiofolia, Aloe vera, cassia auriculata, Euphorbia tortilis, E.hirta and few species of grasses. ” 
56)  These species could be found only in dry lands. It is surprising that although large part of the area is covered with wetlands and paddy lands, the EIA could not find  any wetland species
57)   In spite of the phenomenal data deficiency, the EIA appears to have been very particular to state thatThere are no endangered species in the study area.”
58)  On the contrary, we could locate 212 species of plants in the area with 27 endemics
59)  Similarly the EIA report is an apology to the faunistic wealth of the area, especially of the wetlands.
60)  The EIA claims that “study includes survey of the animal communities such as insects, molluscs, fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals (page 88 of the report)
61)  However, it does not specify the method followed for studying each group.  Certainly the method followed for birds cannot be used for studying the insects or snails.
62)  Although the EIA claims to have studied the fishes, reptiles and mammals, nowhere in the report does it list out these faunistic elements.
63)  For any attempt to document the flora and fauna, the study has to be year round or at least seasonal. In the present case the EIA report says: “majority of data on water quality, vegetation, air and noise quality was collected during field studies in August – October 2010”. Even if they have collected the data during this period, that too apparently they have not, the three months data alone are grossly inadequate to assess both the faunal and floral richness of the area; especially for the purpose of impact assessment of a project which threatens total destruction  of  the ecology of the   area
64)  Interestingly, the report says: “Information on eco-system within study area was collected from the State Agricultural and Forest departments. The important flora species native to the area is enumerated.  tests check survey was also under taken to judge the correctness of the data collected” (page 18). Whether this was done so is doubtful, as it is quite sure that no forest or agricultural department official would ever give a list of plants which are not present in their area. On the contrary, if EIA team had consulted the Agricultural department, it would have got valuable information related to the ecology of the area.
65)  Although the EIA claims to have identified 52 insect species representing 14 orders, the non-inclusion of the list of species, the method followed and, names of the experts who identified the insect species makes the entire claim unacceptable.  However, as though the EIA has not  committed  an omission  it says “there are  no rare or endangered species”[of insects}
66)  Again, the EIA appears to have either neglected or paid no serious attention to the avifauna (bird fauna) of the area. It has not given the methodology, not even the time spent in the field, but states that    34 species were recorded. But no list is provided.  It may be noted that within about five hours, one afternoon and one forenoon, two of us could locate 80 species (list attached). And, the Kottayam Natural History has recorded 87 species; totally the bird list of the area goes to 103 species with two Near threatened species of the IUCN and five migratory species. Needless to say the area will have a large number of ducks and other migratory species during the migratory season.

67)  Therefore, the statement in the ESA report that  ”It was found during study period that the location is devoid of any endangered flora and fauna in 10 km radius” is  not qualified even to describe as  erroneous!  In this context, it may be noted that during our visits, we could cover only in around the wetlands which are under the threat of reclamation, and not   10 km radius which the EIA claimed to have covered. Yet, we could locate more than double the number of species of birds.
68)  The enormity of the shallowness in the biological/ecological assessment of the area is abundantly obvious from the following statements given in page 87:  “The environmental interactions of these insects reveal that, they are interrelated and majority of them are useful insects”, and page 88: “The presence of birds at different study sites reveals that there is good relationship between the birds and its habitat along with the vegetation. The maintenance of ecological balance could be seen among study area”. Indeed, a typical desk EIA.

69)  Land in the area has been recorded as   “unclassified” land in page 29 of the EIA report. At no stretch of imagination, could the land in the area be classified so. Mostly the area is wetlands/paddy fields.

70)  The report in page 28 says that there are no archeological and cultural monuments within 10 km radius. There cannot be a more erroneous statement than this, as the area is dotted with a large number of temples of historical eminence; the famous Aranmula temple is only around 200 from the border of the proposed airport.

71)  The impact statements in the ESI, especially on the biological components do not deserve any attention. There cannot be a more callous approach than this.

The EIA is silent on major environmental issues

72)  The EIA is silent on the major impacts of reclaiming wetlands and paddy fields that extends approximately 400 acres. Worst still, the report does not even acknowledge that it is a wetland.

73)  As the entire area is the flood plain of river Pumba, whenever water level rises, the entire area gets inundated. Therefore, the wetland areas now marked for the airport has to be raised at least 3-4 feet from the rest of the area. This would amount to filling the wetlands about 10-12 feet high.

74)  The EIA should have quantified the sand required for this and, also mentioned the source of sand for the same.
75)  A preliminary assessment made by us shows that it would require a minimum of 96 lakhs tonnes of sand.

76)  Since the source of material for the already filled up area was a hill close-by, called Karimarathu mala, which was bulldozed (Fig. 10),   the source for filling rest of the wetlands cannot expected to be different.  It could be some hills   which the KGS Group has already purchased. The isolated pieces of land included under the Industrial Area fortify this inference.

One major question: Do we really require an Airport in Aranmula?

77)  Kerala State, hardly 600 km in length and average 150 km in width, has already got three airports, namely Trivandrum International Airport, Cochin International Private Airport, Calicut International Airport and a 4th one, a green field airport,   at Kannur is being taken up. That means on an average, there is one airport for every 150 Km.

78)  Incidentally, the Government of India’s guidelines for the Greenfield Airport specify that it should be normally 150 km from any existing airport. The distance to Aranmula from both the Trivandrum International Airport and the Cochin international Airport is just 96 km air distance. And, by road from Trivandrum to Aranmula is 122 km and Cochin Airport even less – 104 km.

79)  It is understood from the press that even now some of the flights from and to the Cochin Airport are being cancelled or adjusted with other air lines because of the lack of passengers.

80)  The Aranmula Airport, it is claimed, is to cater the needs of mainly the NRIs from four surrounding districts, namely Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Alappuzha and Idukki. It may be noted that if the air passengers from these districts move to the Aranmula Airport, the Cochin Airport and even the Trivandrum Airport will certainly become not only non-profitable but may have to run at a loss.

A note on the background of the proposed Aranmula Airport

It may be necessary to give a brief background of the proposed airport to get a clear picture

81)  Since the last few years, paddy fields in Aranmula area have been bought in the name of a Trust, namely Mount Zion Educational Trust purportedly to fulfil the statutory obligation of having an air strip to commence an Aeronautical Engineering course at its college.

82)  The local people, we understand, did not raise any objection thinking that it was only for enhancing the educational facilities of the children. However, no sooner than later it was realised that the purpose for which the land was bought was for setting up an airport.

83)  The Chairman of the Mount Zion Educational Trust, namely Shri. Abraham Kalamannil even told the local people that since there has been no cultivation for the last couple of years, he would begin fish culture.

84)  The Educational Trust appears to have purchased about 350 acres of land.  It was not only bought, but was filled in some parts (Fig. 11, 12) . The vital portion of the Valiayathod was filled disrupting the flow of water between Pumba and the paddy lands and wetlands

85)  However, on protests of people, a diversion was made through which some amount of flow could be restored to the east and south of the filled area. The portion that ran toward east was completely reclaimed.

86)  Even some of the revenue land was also filled along with this which the RDO had ordered the Thasildar to recover (Annexure 4 ; copy of RDO’s order).

87)  The material for filling was taken by bulldozing a hill near-by (Fig. 10).

88)  The farmers got agitated and filed a writ petition in the High Court of Kerala against filling the paddy land and the construction activities. The Court in its judgement dated 24 February 2005 ordered that no construction in the paddy field shall be done unless statutory clearances are obtained (Annexure 5: High Court of Kerala: W. P. No. 3917 of 2005; dated 24 February 2005).

89)  A business group from Chennai, namely KGS Group came into the picture and they bought 350 acres of land from the Trust/ Abraham Kalamannil, its Chairman and floated a company called KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd.

90)  The Industrial Department of the Government of Kerala on 8 September 2010, had given approval in principle for the Greenfield airport with a condition that the company should obtain necessary land without violating the existing rules and regulations (Annexure 6; copy of the order).

91)  However, the KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd could not get the land registered in their name, as the district Collector rejected its application since there was a case pending against Shri. Abraham Kalamannil for reclamation of wetland.

92)  Unfortunately, again, the Industrial Department   in a tearing   hurry declared the 500 acres required by the KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd. as an Industrial Area, that too just less than a week before the elections to the State Assembly was announced. Industrial Area was declared on 24 February 2011.

93)  It may be noted that while doing so, the Government had not sought the approval or even opinion of the local Panchayaths thereby violating the Constitutional provisions as per the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution bestowing the sole right to the Gram Sabha for plan development in the area.

94)  The local people, raised protests against the Greenfield Airport at the cost of their paddy fields and wetlands.  

95)  The District Collector called a meeting of all concerned parties during the end of December 2011, and as per the news paper report (Hindu December 31, 2011): the meeting “decided to recommend to the Government to de-notify the 500 acres of land declared as industrial area in Aranmula, Mallappuzhassery and Kidangannur villages.” “ The meeting has also decided to stop all further proceedings with regard to the proposed private airport till the notification declaring 500 acres of land spread across the three villages was withdrawn”

96)   It may be noted that the Ministry for Civil Aviation, according to its then Minister’s (Shri. Vayalar Ravi) statement in the Lok Sabha, no permission was granted to the KGS Aranmula Airport Project (Annexure 7 ; copy of the statement made in the parliament)

97)   The Defence Ministry has also not given permission till the last week of January 2011 (Annexure  8; copy of a letter from the Defence Minister to a Member of Parliament)

Recommendations

98)  The Government must seriously examine whether Kerala requires a 5th Airport, the one proposed in Aranmula. As it is today, the State will have one airport at an interval of 150 km when the Kannore airport is built and commissioned.

99)  The analysis should consider the data of flight frequency, the airlines which are operating, whether the seats are full, if so, whether additional flights could meet those requirements,  the number of national and international passengers from Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Kottayam and Alappuzha,

100)     If it is convincingly found that an airport is required, that means even with additional services the requirement could not   be met, a suitable place other than wetlands, paddy lands and forests may be located.

101)     Under no circumstances, shall the paddy lands and wetlands be converted, nullifying the Kerala Paddy land and Wetlands Conservation Act, 2008. It may be noted that Kerala was the first in the country to bring out such an act to save its dwindling wetlands and paddy fields. The sagacity and wisdom behind the Act shall not be allowed to become a laughing stock.

102)     When the State is expected to take concerted efforts to bring every inch of land under cultivation to fill the huge gap between production and demand for paddy; 5 lakh tones and 45 lakhs tonnes respectively, it cannot even think of giving away 400 acres of wetland and paddy lands for an airport. Whether it is run by the Government or a private party is immaterial.

103)     The Government should immediately bring out a programme to restore  agriculture in the area along with fish culture and duck rearing.
104)     The local people are crying for such a start which would, in a sense, apart from all the economic returns, help restore the cultural legacy of the area.
105)     It would, certainly, not be a mean task to de-silt the Kozhithodu, restore the Valiayathodu, and removing the litre from the paddy lands to begin agriculture. Whatever may be the mighty task, the Government inevitably owes that to the farmers of that area, as they had discontinued farming for no fault of them, but solely of the Government.
106)     The Zion Educational Trust (Shri. Abraham Kalamannil) should be persuaded to use the paddy lands already bought by them for paddy cultivation.
107)     Under no circumstances shall exception be given for converting the paddy lands and wetlands under the Kerala State Paddy lands and Wetland Conservation Act, 2008. The provision for “exception for public purpose” will not be applicable here.
108)     In all practical purpose, the term “public” in the present context means national/ international passengers who are currently using the airport at Cochin or Trivandrum. The airport is used only for a handful of such selected class of people.  Will it then be correct to distinguish this as ‘public purpose’?
109)     On the other hand, although the wetlands and paddy fields are in private hands, they serve a huge public purpose by controlling floods, nourishing the ponds and wells and serve as breeding ground for a large number of commercially important fishes. This would undoubtedly serve more “public purpose”.
110)     In short, the airport is for a selected few, whereas the wetlands and paddy lands are for the public. The Government’s choice lies between the two.
111)     Since the wetlands are a common property, as they serve public purpose, no government can sacrifice the very common property for the benefit of a few.

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The team who made the study comprised Dr. Sujanapal (Botanist), Dr. C. P. Shaji (Fish Expert),           Dr. Lalitha Vijayan and Dr.  V. S. Vijayan (Ornithology and wetland ecology).
Acknowledgement
The discussions with the Agricultural Officers of Aranmula, Mallappuzhassery and, Assistant Director and Deputy Director of Agriculture covering these areas were quite useful. We are grateful to them.
We are grateful to Shri. Sreeranganathan, (Retd. Artist,  Rubber Board) and the native of Aranmula, who has been of great help to us during our various field trips and also help organise various group and individual discussions
Many farmers, including Shri. Uthaman shared their experience in farming which helped us to understand the system well.
My special thanks are due to Dr. T. V. Sajeev of Kerala Forest Research Institute for all the efforts he took to bring out the report in a presentable form.

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