Thursday, March 7, 2013


 The Kerala Government appears to be, with the backing of some strong powers in New Delhi, forcing upon the people, the inhabitants of three Panchayats -Aranmula, Mallappuzhassery and Kidangannur, a greenfield airport which they don't want as they know it is not going to be beneficial to them at all.

Such an airport in a hamlet declared by the United Nations as a heritage village, on the banks of the holy river Pampa, and in a densely populated region involving eviction of thousands of families is disastrous.

Using the airport as a camouflage some vested interests having strong political clouts in Delhi is believed to be working behind to harness vast stretches of wetlands on the banks of the river so as to enhance their real estate business interests knowing well the potential given the pressure on land in Kerala on the one hand and the inflow of overseas funds to the state.

The promoters so far have not come out with a valuable economic feasibility study on these projects. And therefore, one would be forced to come to the conjecture that neither a green field airport nor an “aerotropolis” project here is going be economically viable. Besides, the social and other negative impacts on various factors, such a project could bring on the masses would be irreparable.

The people are learned and well aware of the facts and hence they are conscious about the dangers ahead of them if the proposed project is allowed to take off. Hence, they are united to oppose it. To save thousands of people, their families, their homes, the heritage, ecology, environment etc of the region a prolonged fight, albeit through non-violent and peaceful methods, and with the help of the judiciary, is needed. Therefore, support of the masses, who love the nature, environment, ecology and want the paddy fields and the wetland systems of the state/country should be preserved, is needed.

False Claims of KGS Group
All the tall claims of the Company that it had received all the clearances are falling down like playing cards. With the announcement by the Union Minister for Environment and Forests that the ministry has not issued “the Environmental Clearance for the project”, its claim of receiving environmental clearance is proved to be false.

In a DO letter No 10-51/2010 -IA.III dated January 31,2013 in reply to a letter of the Opposition Leader in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushama Swaraj, on the proposed airport at Mallappuzhasserry, Aranmula, Kerala by M/s KGS Aranmula Airport Limited, the Union Minister for E and F, Ms Jayanti Natarajan, said on Jan 31,2013 “The environmental clearance for the project has not been granted so far”.

“It is, in fact, mandatory that the environmental clearance should be submitted along with the application for securing license for the airport”, say experts.

The Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), Series 'F' Part I- Section 4 (October 2006) requires the “applicant to forward along with the application form attested copies of clearances/permission from Ministry of Defence; Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India; Owner of the land; and Local authority such as municipal corporation/committee or urban land development board/authority of the State or its Country and Town Planning Department”. At the same time the copies of the clearances / permissions issued by the above authorities are required to be endorsed to DGCA, it says.

The Union Defence Ministry has in its letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation on Aug 24, 201, said “the proposal has been considered in consultation with the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy and that there is no objection for setting up of a new Greenfield Airport at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district by M/s KGS Aranmula Airport Limited subject to the following (8) conditions”. In addition to these eight (a) to (h) conditions, the  letter said “it is requested that no objection/clearance from other government organization/agencies/local bodies concerned, as may be required, may also be obtained prior to setting up of a new greenfield airport”. It is not known if all the conditions enumerated by the Defence Ministry have been complied with.

Thus, the letter from the Union Minister of Environment and Forests has shrouded a cloud of doubt on the claims of the promoter company that it had obtained all the clearances.
The latest to prove the false claims is the letter of the Pathanamthitta District Collector to the Commissioner, Land Revenue, Government of Kerala dated February 12, 2013, which is self explanatory. The English translation of the text of the letter in Malayalam No. C8-51855/09 dated 12-02-13 is reproduced below:

“I may invite your kind attention to the reference cited. Sri. K.G. Abraham, S/o Joseph Kalamannil, Kozhencherry, has purchased 230 Acres of land in Aranmula, Kidangannur, and Mallappuzhasserry Villages of the Kozhencherry Taluk for starting an Aeronautical Engineering Course on behalf of the Kozhencherry Educational and Charitable Society. Following this, this person filled a portion of the paddy land and also encroached and filled the nearby natural stream/channel, which is a Government property. He illegally encroached and filled up 0.2187 Hectares of a stream, which is a Government property, in the Aranmula Village, Block No. 3, under Survey Numbers 388/12, 391/1, 409,410  and  in the Mallappuzhasserry Village, in Block 12, under Survey 108,246,247,248,249, 262, 262/1, an area of 2.3540 Hectares of Poramboke (Village Common Land). Against the said encroachments, the Kozhencherry Additional Tahasildar registered a Case under The Kerala Land Conservancy Act, subsequently completed all the procedures, evicted the encroachments in an area of 2.3540 Hectares of the Poramboke Stream on 12.7.12, and erected a Sign Board declaring that the area is a Government Property. A Special Survey Team constituted by the Kozhencherry Additional Tahasildar verified this. Sri. K.J. Abraham had illegally earth filled an area of 9.6685 Hectares  in Mallappuzhasserry Village, in Block Number 12, Re-survey Numbers 241, 250, 251,254, and in the Aranmula Village, an area of 7.5314 Hectares in Block Number 3, Survey Numbers 387/1, 387/5, 387/10, 387/11,  387/2, 388/6, 388/9, of  Nilam (paddy/wet land) during the years 2004 to 2007. Ban orders were issued against this illegal filling of Nilam (paddy/wet land) by the Mallappuzhasserry Village Officer on 19-12-07, vide Order     No. 247/07 and by the Aranmula Village Officer on 11.08.2008, vide Order No.180/07.
While the above cases are still operative, in 2009-2010, Sri. K.J. Abraham sold the land he acquired for the Kozhencherry Charitable and Educational Society in the Aranmula, Mallappuzhasserry, and Kidangannur Villages to the KGS Aranmula Airport Limited. The State Industries Department on 8.9.10 vide Govt. order No. 1262/12/ID had given permission to KGS Aranmula Airport Limited to procure land as per the provisions of existing laws, rules and regulations. Later, on 24-02-11, a Government Order             No. 54/11/ID, was issued declaring 144 Hectares of land at Aranmula, Mallappuzhasserry, and Kidangannur villages as Industrial Area.

On the wake of popular agitations erupted against the Industrial Area declaration and Aranmula Airport project, the District Collector convened an All Party meeting on 31.12.11. As per the decision of the said meeting, a recommendation letter was sent to the Industries Department to exempt the land, which is not belonging to the KGS Aranmula Airport from the Industrial Area.

 Sri. K.J. Abraham, Kalamannil, Kozhencherry in his capacity as Chairman of various Trusts has acquired excess land and permission was granted to initiate  suo motu case against him under the Kerala Land Reforms Act by the State Land Board vide its Order No. LB (B8) 4257/08 dated 03-07-12 and consequently a case for excess land was booked by Kozhencherry Taluk Land Board vide proceedings No. SM/1/12 and issued Draft Statement on 20/9/12 to surrender the 132 Hectare land held by him and the proceedings are going on.

As per the Industries (B) Department order No. 1262/12/ID dated 08.09.10 permission has been given to M/s. KGS Group to procure land on its own and further in view of the instructions of the Hon. Chief Minister of Kerala dated 12.11.10. to initiate necessary steps for transfer of land to facilitate the construction of the Project, this office has given instructions to the Kozhencherry Addl. Tahasildar on 18.11.11. for mutation of land as per existing rules and regulations of the land purchased by M/s. KGS group. Since, a case was booked against Sri. K.J. Abraham for holding excess land by the Kozhencherry Taluk Land Board vide Case No. SM 1/12 and issued Draft Statement in the excess land case, the 77.8116 Hectares of land included in the said Draft Statement is found mutated, and in the above circumstances, it is directed from this office on 29-11-12 that the same may be cancelled and proceeding in this direction is going on presently. 

Even though, The KGS Aranmula Airport Limited is permitted to procure land as per the provisions of existing laws, rules and regulations vide Order No. 1262/112/ID dated 08.09.10, and since the said Company has in possession of surplus land, it did not file Returns as per the Kerala Land Reforms Rules nor it has not submitted any application for any exemption under the law.  Under these circumstances, this office has requested the State Land Board on 08-02-13 for directions to initiate suo motu case for holding excess land against the KGS Company. Further proceedings shall be taken in this matter as per the directions from the Land Board.

In the Aranmula Village, Edayaranmula Muriyil, Thuruthi Mala Thayyil Veetil Janaki and Kanjangad, Attayanganam, Kolarangadi Veetil P.M. Rajan on 28-11-12 and 31.01.13, respectively, submitted complaints in this office that the land in their name and possession has been transferred by Sri. K.J. Abraham to the KGS Group with forged documents. The Pathanamthitta District Police Superintend was requested through letters from this office, to enquire into and take necessary action in this regard and requested him to furnish action taken report to this office.

The District Administration, so far, has given no permission, either to the KGS Airport Limited or any other parties for land conversion or any other activity in Aranmula. Proceedings are progressing against Sri K.J. Abraham in connection with the illegal activities taken place at Aranmula under Kerala Land Reforms Act, Kerala Land Conservancy Act, and Kerala Land Utilization Act. The details of government officials, who have failed to act against various illegal activities, including unauthorized conversion of paddy land and natural streams in a time bound manner, will be reported soon”.

Against this background the Company's reported claim that it has obtained all necessary clearances for setting up a greenfield international airport at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district (The Hindu Dec 13, 2011) is to be viewed.

Irreparable damage to environment, ecology

Setting up of a greenfield airport will result in evicting of an estimated over 3,000 families .
Will result in reclamation of vast stretches of paddy fields and wetlands which would destroy many of the characters that have qualified it to become the Heritage village.
It will spell doom to the fragile eco-system and environment.
Will result in acute shortage of drinking water. Groundwater recharging function occurs when water moves from the wetland down into the underground aquifer. By the time it reaches the aquifer, the water is usually cleaner than when it began to filter down from the wetland. Once in the aquifer, it may be drawn for th human consumption, or it may flow laterally underground until it rises to the surface in another wetland as groundwater discharge. Recharge is also beneficial for flood storage, because the run-off is temporarily stored underground, rather than moving swiftly down stream and overflowing. This natural balancing act is now disrupted due to wetland conversion.

Laterite soil from hilltops is usually used to fill the paddy fields. Since the water retention capacity of that soil is poor, the converted fields become harder, which leads to the growth of more amphibious grass and other weeds through community succession.
The State Biodiversity Board sources say intangible services of the eco-system cannot be expressed in money terms. In fact, tropical forests and wetlands are more complex system with higher biodiversity value and, hence, there average ecosystem services would be worth 6-10 times more, they said.

Consequently, plunging water table, pollution of drinking water and dwindling paddy production making the State depend on neighbouring States for rice are just a few of the problems. Studies show that wetland and paddy-cultivated acreage in the State fell by 65 per cent in 30 years. If more than 30 per cent of the cultivated area in the State was under paddy in the middle of 1970s, it shrank to 12 per cent by 2000 and to much below now.

No Civilian airport within 150 kms

The Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Mr Vayalar Ravi, who was holding also the portfolio of Minister for Civil Aviation, in a reply to a Starred Question 70 in the Rajya Sabha on Aug 4, 2011 regarding private airport at Aranmula, said “M/s KGS Aranmula Airport Limited has submitted a proposal to the Government of India for grant of site clearance for setting up of an international airport at Aranmula, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala” and “the proposal was examined in consultation with Ministry of Defence and Airport Authority of India and was not agreed to for site clearance”.

According to the Guidelines of DGCA “No greenfield airport would be allowed within an aerial distance of 150 Km of an existing civilian airport. In case a greenfield airport is proposed to be set up within 150 Km of an existing civilian airport, the impact on the existing airport would be examined”.

The DGCA guidelines say that “In case of an application by the AAI or an Airport Company to set up an airport within 150 km of an existing airport, the application shall be considered first by the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee shall consider all relevant facts and circumstances including contractual liabilities, if any. The Steering Committee shall also take into account whether the applicant has obtained the approvals required under the applicable laws from the authorities approval has been granted by the Central Government (Ministry of Civil Aviation).

The Steering Committee shall consider all relevant facts and circumstances including contractual liabilities, if any. The Steering Committee shall also take into account whether the applicant has obtained the approvals required under the applicable laws from the authorities concerned. After considering the application, the Steering Committee shall make a suitable recommendation to the Central Government (Ministry of Civil Aviation).

The Ministry of Civil Aviation shall place the matter before Union Cabinet for its consideration. DGCA would consider such proposals for grant of license only after the approval of the Central Government is conveyed,say the DGCA guidelines.

But, nothing of the sort is understood to have taken place in this case.

Defence Ministry refuses to issue NOC

The Union Defence Minister in a DO letter No 19(79)/11-D(N-11/Ops)/ 669/361 – F/RS/2011 dated 20th January 2011 to Mr Anto Antony, MP, rejected the demand for an NOC for the airport project, citing severe restrictions on the availability of airspace for conduct of military flying.

Excerpts from the letter ibid are as follows:.
“This has reference to your letter dated 5th January 2011 regarding grant of Defence Clearance for Greenfield Airport at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala.
You would recall that through my letter dated 12th November 2010, I had conveyed that this matter was examined in the ministry and it was found that since the establishment of Greenfield Airport at Aranmula would result in imposing severe restrictions on the availability of airspace for conduct of military flying at Naval Air Station INS Garuda at Kochi, it was not possible to agree for NOC from Ministry of Defence”.

The airport proposed to be set up is at a distance in less than 100 kilometers from Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery, Thiruvananthapuram International Airport and the Naval Airport at Kochi.

The airport is proposed in a thickly populated region and if it turns out to be a reality it would have serious noise pollution in the area.

Not to benefit Sabarimala pilgrims

If the airport is proposed to be set up targeting the rich Sabarimala pilgrims, then the ideal location should be some where close to Nilakkal, the transit camp proposed by the Kerala Government. The distance from Aranmula to Sabarimala works out to over 70 kms.
It is a well known fact that majority of the Sabarimala pilgrims are from outside Kerala. They strictly undergo arduous penance and austerity, as each pilgrim is required to observe. These pilgrims, therefore, are unlikely to travel by air. Above all, it is an annual phenomenon.
The economic viability of the greenfield airport in the middle of two major international airports at Thiruvananthapuram and Nedumbassery does not seem to have been worked out.

The intention of setting up of an airport is, therefore, doubtful. There is appears to be an organized move to destroy the rich heritage of the region on the banks of the Holy river Pampa on the one hand and on the other to achieve the commercial interest of a strong land mafia.
Despite all the factors mentioned above, the promoters of the airport project claim to have obtained all the permissions/clearances etc. If their claims are true then the speed at which project is being given clearances by various relevant government departments/ establishments allegedly violating/flouting rules/ regulations gives the impression that vested interests of certain powerful lobbies are behind this project. 

The row over the proposed private airport project could be traced to nine years ago when the Kadammanitta-based Mount Zion Educational Trust had mooted setting up of an airstrip as part of an Aeronautical Engineering course at its engineering college. The Trust had purchased a large extent of waterlogged paddy fields (puncha) at Aranmula and had illegally converted it by bulldozing a hill located on its boundary.

Sharp fall in Paddy cultivation makes Kerala a Statutory Ration State

Studies show that wetland and paddy-cultivated acreage in the State fell by 65 per cent in 30 years. If more than 30 per cent of the cultivated area in the State was under paddy in the middle of 1970s, it shrank to 12 per cent by 2000. The area under the crop has dropped to 2,13,185 ha in 2010-11 from 8.81 lakh ha was in 1974-75 while the total production fell to around five lakh tonnes from 13.34 lakh tonnes. The estimated annual requirement, at present, is 40 lakh tonnes with a minimum per capita food availability of 320 g, according to official sources. “At a time when there is an over dependence for food grains/pulses on outside sources, paddy fields are sold out or are being reclaimed for non-agricultural purposes under the facade of 'development'”
According to Kerala State Land Use Board a major land use change that has occurred in Kerala is the conversion and reclamation of paddy cultivated areas, both in the lowlands and uplands to non-agricultural uses jeopardizing the food security of the State, when it is designated as a ‘Statutory Ration State’ with over 90 per cent need of food grain met by imports.


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