Kerala: Proposed Sabarimala airport gets green signal from Environment Ministry panel

The acquisition of land for the airport could result in the displacement of local communities, thus compensation has been recommended.

ByPTI

Published Jun 20, 2023 | 11:42 AM Updated Jun 20, 2023 | 1:53 PM

Sabarimala airport

The Kerala government’s proposal to develop a ₹3,411 crore greenfield Sabarimala international airport in Kottayam district has received a shot in the arm with a Union Environment Ministry panel recommending it for the grant of standard Terms of Reference (TOR) for airports.

The TOR was recommended by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the ministry, which met in New Delhi last month.

This will enable the project proponent — Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) Limited — to plan and design an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), besides provide a format and structure for the project, official sources said.

Also Read: Butterflies to help understand ecological changes at Sabarimala 

About 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 EAC observed that the proposed site appears to be the best alternative among the sites examined and recommended the proposal for the grant of standard TOR for airports,” a source told PTI. The project is expected to provide employment to 600 people in the operation phase.

The KSIDC and its consultant made a detailed presentation before the EAC on the three alternative sites they had considered for developing the project, which is being planned mainly to serve the pilgrims of the famous Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala and additionally provide a fillip to tourism and local economies of the Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, and Idukki districts.

The proponent also informed the EAC that the project site is outside the Eco Sensitive Area (ESA) of the Western Ghats, and submitted a certificate from the Additional Chief Secretary (Home and Environment), Government of Kerala, to this effect.

The Ecologically Sensitive Zone of the Periyar Tiger Reserve falls outside the 10 km radius of the proposed airport project.

Related: Is budgetary allocation for Sabarimala rail connectivity a sham? 

New airport could displace local communities

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in April this year, welcomed the Civil Aviation Ministry’s site clearance for a greenfield airport project near Kottayam and termed it as “great news for spiritual tourism”.

The Civil Aviation Ministry had, on 13 April, informed the KSIDC about the site clearance for the airport that would come up close to the famed Lord Ayyappa shrine.

The Ministry also asked the KSIDC to proceed with the preparation of a Detailed Project Report (DPR) and to send that along with an application for grant of “in-principle” approval to it for further necessary action.

Last month, a draft of the Social Impact Assessment of Land Acquisition recommended mitigation and compensation of the possible negative impacts of the proposed land acquisition from Erumeli South and Manimala villages of Kottayam district for the construction of the greenfield airport.

Also Read: Ammini, woman who entered Sabarimala temple, leaves Kerala 

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 for the airport 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 has 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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Studies confirm site is suitable for airport

The proposed project requires 1,039.8 hectares of land from Erumeli South and Manimala villages of Kanjirapally taluk in Kottayam district, and 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. The location is close enough for easy connectivity to Pamba, but far enough to ensure no disturbance to the Sabarimala temple and its activities.

KSIDC said that geotechnical investigations done on the project site have confirmed that the site is suitable for setting up an airport. If commissioned, the project will be the fifth international airport in Kerala.

Following a competitive bidding process and approval from the government, KSIDC has engaged Louis Berger Consulting Pvt Ltd as the consultant to undertake the Techno-Economic Feasibility (TEF) study and EIA study for the project, and to facilitate necessary clearances from the central government and other agencies for the project.

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