Kerala High Court stays land acquisition notification for Sabarimala Greenfield airport

The state government had earlier said that having the Sabarimala Greenfield airport would promote tourism and boost the economy.

BySouth First Desk

Published Apr 25, 2024 | 7:25 PM Updated Apr 25, 2024 | 7:25 PM

Priests at Sabarimala temple.

The Kerala High Court on Thursday, 25 April, put on hold a state government notification regarding acquisition of land for the construction of the Sabarimala Greenfield airport in Kottayam district.

Justice Viju Abraham passed the interim order on a plea by a charitable trust and its managing trustee challenging the land acquisition notification. Advocate Rishikesh Haridas, who appeared for the trust, confirmed the contents of the court order.

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

The trust, also represented by senior advocate Amit Sibal and advocate Dhiraj Philip, has 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 also cited various Kerala High Court orders by which actions initiated by the government to allegedly grab its land, were struck down.

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‘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 hill-top shrine of Lord Ayyappa in 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, the sanction granted to proceed with acquisition and the land acquisition notification.

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Environmental concerns, recommendations

The project was accused of having disastrous ecological consequences and 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) 

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)