Brushing aside the objections raised by the parliamentary standing committee and concerns expressed by environmentalists, local residents, opposition and a section of ruling parties, the government of India has given final approval for a fifth international airport in the tiny state of Kerala.
The environmental clearance for the first private international greenfield airport in the country at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district was given by the federal ministry of environment and forests on Monday.
The approval is subject to condition that the airport promoter will secure exemptions from the provisions of the Kerala Land Reforms Act with regard to excess land and the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act related to conversion of paddy fields from the state government. The state environment department has already recommended the crucial exemptions.
Chennai-based KGS Group, in which Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani Group is a partner, is building the airport in 700 acres of land at an estimated cost of Rs20 billion to cater to non-resident Keralites, tourists and pilgrims visiting the Sabarimala hill shrine and Christian pilgrim centres in central Kerala.
KGS Group chief executive officer T P Nandakumar said the work on the airport will begin next week and the first flight will land at the airport in 2015. He told reporters here on Tuesday that the company has got clearances required to go ahead with the project.
When asked about the concerns expressed by various sections about the adverse impact of the project on the environment, Nandakumar said the issues being raised by them were baseless. He clarified that the project will not interfere with the ecosystem of the area.
However, the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPM), which heads the opposition Left Democratic Front, and the legislators belonging to Green group in the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front have termed the environmental nod to the project disastrous.
Alleging that the clearance was given without proper study, the CPM said they would continue their agitations against the project, which incidentally was given the go-ahead by the previous LDF government headed by V S Achuthanandan.
T N Prathapan, a Congress legislator representing the Green group, has urged the federal ministry of environment to disclose the details of the environmental impact study carried out for the project.
Senior Congress leader V M Sudheeran alleged that the project was cleared based on a dubious EIA study conducted by a private agency. He termed the decision unfortunate.
The Aranmula Heritage Village Action Committee, which has been spearheading an agitation against the project, said they will move the Supreme Court against the environmental clearance accorded to the project. They called a shut-down strike at Aranmula in protest against the federal government decision.