Rose Bridger in the Ecologist | India – people resist airport land-grabs

Rural communities all over India are battling against a land grab of epic proportions. And one of the biggest causes of land grabs is for airports to support India’s domestic aviation boom. Rose Bridger reports from Kerala, where four new ‘green field’ airports are meeting stiff local resistance.

Bridger T02131On a massive scale, large tracts of farmland and wildlife habitats are being handed over to corporations for mines, steel plants, manufacturing, agribusiness plantations, roads, dams, oil refineries, power plants and logistics parks.

A failed model of development is being imposed at breakneck speed, based on fossil fuel dependency and maximising extraction and consumption of resources.

The land grab has been met by tumultuous protests by people defending their land and livelihoods. Compensation is often negligible, subject to lengthy delays, or even non-existent. Rehabilitation programmes are similarly inadequate. All too often, evictees are left destitute – granted neither new plots of land and housing comparable to what they have lost, nor employment at the project that displaced them. 

Affected communities also have concerns beyond their own future. Loss of wildlife habitats and biodiversity is of such a monumental scale that entire ecosystems are destroyed. Encroachment onto farmland reduces food supplies, in a country where one in five citizens go hungry.

One important aspect of the land grab is airport expansion, and new airports. There are ambitious projects at various stages of planning, approval and construction all over India. New airports on undeveloped sites, are called ‘greenfield’ airports. The requisite road network and associated land developments often extend the airport footprint over a far wider area.

Three greenfield airports are planned in Kerala, one of the smallest states in India – at Aranmula, Wayanad and Anakkara. All three sites consists of biodiverse wetlands and paddy fields where farmers cultivate rice and other crops. Plans for a proposed airport at Aranmula encompass four villages – Aranmula, Mallappuzhasserry, Mezhuveli and Kidangannur.

Fertile, biodiverse wetlands which would be paved over are surrounded by densely forested hills, which would be levelled off. More than 40 hectares have already been filled in, using earth from a nearby hillock.

Satellite images show the pale brown strip in sharp contrast to the vast expanse of lush green surrounding it. The disruption caused to irrigation and flood control is an indication of the disastrous ecological consequences should the airport be built.

About 3,000 families may face eviction. The campaign against the airport is led by the Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council and there have been major protests for more than two years, including rallies, fasting, an attempt to storm into the developers’ office and a human chain of hundreds of people.

Reputable organisations report that claims by the developer, KGS Group, to be in legal possession of the land are false, and that granting of clearances by government agencies, for filling in of wetlands and other development activities, is fraudulent and illegal.

Supposedly, the new airport would bring in more tourists. But it would destroy much of what is attractive to visitors. Aranmula has been declared a global heritage village by UNESCO. It is renowned for metal mirrors made from unique clay and an annual snake boat regatta along the Pampa River. The runway would be less that 1 kilometre from Aranmula’s famous temple, visited by pilgrims from far and wide. Aircraft noise would not be conducive to peaceful contemplation.

Read the rest of this article on the Ecologist website, here.

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