Will withdraw notification on acquiring land for Sabarimala airport: Kerala government to High Court

The government told the court it would conduct a fresh Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study with regard to the project by a different agency.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jun 21, 2024 | 4:09 PM Updated Jun 21, 2024 | 4:09 PM

Sabarimala airport

The Kerala government has informed the High Court in Ernakulam that it will withdraw the preliminary notifications issued by it to acquire land for the construction of the Sabarimala Greenfield airport in Kottayam district.

The government has also told the court that it will conduct a fresh Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study with regard to the project through a different agency.

The submissions were made before the court on Thursday, 20 June, during the hearing of a plea by a charitable trust and its managing trustee challenging the land acquisition notification.

In view of the submissions by the government, Justice Viju Abraham closed the petition “leaving open all other contentions on both sides”.

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Earlier hearing

The court had on 25 April directed the state government not to take any further steps for two months in connection with the preliminary notification to acquire land for the construction of the Sabarimala Greenfield airport.

The petitioners — Ayana Charitable Trust and its managing trustee Siny Punnoose — had alleged that the land acquisition process was aimed at illegally taking over their property — a rubber plantation measuring around 2,263 acres.

The trust, represented by advocates P Haridas and Rishikesh Haridas, had claimed that the state government has been attempting to “grab its property” ever since it acquired the land in 2005.

In its plea, the trust had also cited various Kerala High Court orders by which actions initiated by the government to allegedly grab its land were struck down.

Related: Kerala High Court stays land acquisition notification for Sabarimala Greenfield airport

‘New airport will promote tourism, boost economy’

The state government had earlier said that the Sabarimala Greenfield airport will make it convenient for pilgrims coming from other states to reach the hilltop shrine of Lord Ayyappa in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. It said that having an airport there would also promote tourism and boost the economy.

Besides that, it would also help people of the area travel across the world from there once the airport comes up, the government had said.

The Centre has granted the site and defence clearance for the Sabarimala Greenfield Airport project, which is being developed on land in Erumeli South and Manimala villages in Kottayam district.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had told the state Assembly in February that the application for security clearance for the project is under consideration of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

He had also said that an environmental impact study has been done and a seven-member expert committee, appointed to review the final Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study report prepared by the Centre for Management Development (CMD), has submitted its recommendations on the project.

Based on the committee’s recommendations, the process of acquiring around 2,570 acres of land for the construction of the airport has been initiated, he had said.

The petitioners, in their plea, have sought quashing of the appointment of the CMD to carry out the SIA study, its report, the expert committee’s recommendations, and the sanction granted to proceed with the acquisition and the land acquisition notification.

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Environmental concerns, recommendations

The project was accused of having disastrous ecological consequences and was vehemently opposed by almost all environmentalists.

Last year, a draft of the Social Impact Assessment of Land Acquisition recommended mitigation and compensation of the possible negative impacts of the proposed land acquisition for the construction of the greenfield airport.

It had found that the acquisition of land for the airport could result in the displacement of local communities, including farmers and other landowners, and this could lead to the loss of livelihoods and social disruption, as well as the potential loss of cultural heritage and traditions associated with the affected communities.

The study further said that the acquisition of land could lead to the loss of property rights of local communities.

This could have significant social and economic impacts, particularly for marginalised or vulnerable groups that may be less able to assert their rights.

Considering this, the study recommended compensation for the project affecting land owners as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act 2013 and as per the 2015 rules framed by Kerala, besides resettlement procedures issued by the Kerala Revenue Department in 2015 and 2017.

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The proposed airport

The airport is proposed to be set up on around 2,570 acres of land at Erumeli in Kottayam district, commonly known by the name Cheruvally Estate.

The proposed project requires 1,039.8 hectares of land from Erumeli South and Manimala villages of Kanjirapally taluk in Kottayam district.

The government has proposed to acquire 916.27 hectares of land from Cheruvally Estate and 123.53 hectares of land from both Manimala and Erumeli South villages.

The site is centrally located near the proposed SH59 (Hill Highway), 50 km from Pamba river, and 40 km from Kottayam town.

(With PTI inputs)