Aranmula airport plans hit a rough patch Besides Environmental Concerns, Less International Traffic At Kochi & Tvm Question The Economic Viability Of Constructing Another Airport
The UDF government has been supporting the proposed Aranmula international airport claiming that the project will bring in a massive investment of Rs 2,000 crore and employ close to thousands of people in the vicinity. But the government has been overlooking critical issues like long-term economic viability of the airport, environment impact on wetlands and rivers and social displacement of affected families. The government also did not conduct a comprehensive traffic impact assessment study as to how the proposed Aranmula airport will impact the existing pattern at Cochin and Trivandrum international airports in the long run. Aviation experts say that already international flights to the UK and USA from Cochin international airport and Trivandrum airports are flying half-empty.
“There are around 135 passengers flying out of Trivandrum international airport on daily basis and most flights are running half-empty. A similar situation is seen at Cochin airport too. What are we going to achieve by approving a private airport in Aranmula under the pretext of luring NRI passengers from central Kerala, apart from creating lucrative real estate assets for speculators,” said an aviation official.
There are voices of dissent within the government too. The undersecretary of customs and excise departments based the report of chief commissioner of customs last year and said that there ‘appears to be no urgent requirement to construct an airport in Aranmula at this juncture as the requirements of international passengers are fulfilled by existing airports’. The finance ministry too had raised similar concerns about the airport’s economic viability. On the environmental front, the government did not consider the adverse environmental problems while granting approval. An AAI expert committee last year pointed out that not only the temple mast of Aranmula temple but even four hills in the vicinity are obstructions. “The rubber plantations and other trees existing on the hills need to be cut and pruned along with cutting of the hills,” the report said. Kerala State Biodiversity Board raised concerns about ecological imbalances due to the project. “Around 80% of the 500 acres earmarked for the project were paddy fields. Conversion of a portion of the paddy field would impact the remaining wetlands, disturb the food chain, and accelerate the depletion of fish resources as well as other flora and fauna in the Pampa river basin,” the report said. The Salim Ali foundation report which earlier looked at the environmental impact assessment said that the deteriorating ecological condition of Kozhithodu –which has been already partly reclaimed - will adversely affect groundwater sources in and around Aranmula. “Over 212 plant species and 60 species of fishes are likely to be affected plus the 3,000 families who have to be relocated,” the Salim Ali foundation report said. “The government also overlooked the assembly committee report on environment that pointed out massive reclamation of Kozhithodu and wetland. Many of our elected representatives are against the project as 72 MLAs from all political parties signed a memorandum to stall the project,” said legal coordinator of One Earth, One life Harish V.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN The LDF govt sanctions an inprinciple approval for Aranmula airport in 2011 on the condition that promoters secured land on their own Around 1,800 acres around the site notified as industrial area UDF govt supports the project approving 10% govt sweat equity in the project
Acres of paddy fields, wetlands and one of the main arteries of Pampa river were reclaimed violating all environmental norms in the last 10 years Chairman of Mount Zion Group K J Abraham acquires the land under the pretext of beginning an airstrip for aeronautical engineering students. Later he sells the land to KGS group in 2010 Finance ministry, customs & excise departments raise concerns over the economic viability of the project The famous Aranmula temple, about 1,500 years old, is just within 200 metres of the proposed airport site, an endogenous tourism area according to United Nations Development Project. AAI committee report says temple mast of Aranmula is blocking flight path. Report recommends cutting of four hills in the vicinity It is estimated that 3,000 people need to be evacuated. It is not clear whether they will be given compensation The assembly committee on environmental affairs, chaired by MLA C P Mohammed, had in 2012 found the airport project ‘highly detrimental’ to the environment KERALA BIODIVERSITY BOARD RAISES OBJECTIONS SINCE PROJECT WILL ADVERSELY IMPACT ENVIRONMENT 72 MLAS, BOTH FROM LDF AND UDF, WRITE TO THE GOVERNMENT TO STALL THE PROJECT
LOCATION The site of the proposed airport is situated at Pathanamthitta between Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram
COST OF THE PROJECT 2,000 cr
AREA 700 ACRES
FUNDING PATTERN Debt 1,300 cr
Capital and promoter contribution 700 cr Debt equity ratio of the project is 2:1
PROJECT STATUS Principle approval granted by the civil aviation ministry and govt of Kerala Awaiting final environmental clearance from expert appraisal committee
Height of temple mast 30.8m
Experts fear that the kodimaram of the temple may hamper take-off and landings at the proposed airport Shift airport to some other place: Thantri Akkeeraman Kalidasa Bhattathiripad, thantri of Aranmula Parthasarathy
temple has urged the authorities to reject the Aranmula airport construction plan. In a statement issued on Thursday, Bhattathiripad said that it is better to shift airport from Aranmula instead of making changes to the flag post of the temple. The entire part of the temple is considered as the whole of devashareeram and flag post is believed to be the backbone of devashareeram. The flag post, one of the tallest posts in the world, was installed after performing dhwaja prathishta and the question of shifting flag mast to construct an airport in the area is distasteful. “To ensure materialistic development, other places can be found, but it is necessary to preserve land of Devas for spiritual enlightenment,” he said. Meanwhile, the ombudsman for the Travancore and Cochin devaswom boards has informed the Kerala high court that it is not possible to reduce the height of the flag mast. The ombudsman informed that the height of the flag mast was determined on the basis of the height of the ‘sreekovil’ and other measurements of the temple and it could not be reduced for accommodating an airport. TNN
PROMOTER‘S CLAIM Airport is just an hour away from Sabarimala, the second-largest pilgrim centre in India Project will generate direct employment to 1,500 people, hire 6,000 others indirectly
GOVT MUST DO A CUMULATIVE ASSESSMENT, SAYS GADGIL The architect of Western Ghats Experts Ecology Panel Report Madhav Gadgil said the state should conduct a cumulative assessment study to look at the environmental and social impact due to the reclamation of hundreds of acres of wetland and cutting down of hills for the proposed airport. This is bound affect the biodiversity and water resources in the long run.
I am not against development and roads, railway stations and airports are necessary. But we need to seriously look at a few issues - who is going to benefit from this ultimately and at what cost. The will of the people – in this case the Grama Sabhas - should have been taken into consideration before approving the project. I feel the excess land here should be given to landless people.