Chennai Greenfield airport project: 'The government is trying to silence us', says activist
Parandur Airport revolves around the new Greenfield Airport policy which was introduced by the Union of India.
Development for whom? Development at what cost?
These questions hardly get asked by the state when a development project is conceived, constructed, and put into use. The lives and livelihoods that get impacted by the project get dismissed as collateral damage. In many instances, the state has been seen to stifle the voices of protests either using its police force or money power in the form of compensation to the affected families.
In Tamil Nadu, advocate Vetriselvan, an activist belonging to the environmental group Poovulagin Nanbargal was recently taken into preventive custody by Kancheepuram police while he was on the way to Eganapuram, a village near Parandur, about 60 km from the city, to take part in a protest against the Greenfield airport project proposed by the state government.
There is opposition among the people against the project. The people fear it would ruin their fertile agricultural land. The environmentalists state that the water bodies would disappear from the site once the airport project takes off.
Tamil Nadu Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu has affirmed that the airport was the need of the hour for the development of the state.
Vetriselvan, who believes otherwise, shared his insights.
What do we have to know about the Parandur Airport project and its inception?
The Parandur Airport project centres around the Union of India's new Greenfield Airport policy. This policy allows airports to be run on public-private partnerships which means privatisation is an essential part of it.
Any state can apply to the Union of India to construct an airport. The state government is responsible for acquiring land for the project. Thereafter, the central government would review the site and grant permission. Following that, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) will approve it. This is the basic procedure for this policy. So, in 2018 or 2019, the announcement for a second airport, in the name of the new Greenfield Airport in Chennai was proposed when the AIADMK government under Edapadi Palaniswami was in power.
The project demands around four thousand acres of land. Of this, around a thousand acres of the land consist of waterbodies and the rest three thousand acres are being used for agriculture which also includes households when combined.
The spot where the runway is to be constructed has not been finalised yet. However, reports suggest a part of the Kamban canal, which reportedly connects 85 waterbodies, falls within the proposed airport area. Of course, all these specifics can only be confirmed once the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is submitted.
This report will include technical feasibility studies which have to be approved by the AAI, as well as clearance from various other departments, including environmental clearance. Before applying for environmental clearance, applications for land acquisition and proceedings must be filed, and officers will need to approve and fine them.
So, once the environmental clearance is obtained, the land acquisition process commences. At the same time, land surveys should also be conducted. Prior to land acquisition, a social impact assessment will be conducted. Once that is completed, we will conduct a public hearing. Here, clearance for pollution and water for the airport has to be done simultaneously. Also, under the 2013 Land Acquisition Act, only private land can be acquired. Hence a public consultation process is required. So, you see, there are many steps involved in this process. Therefore this project is still in its initial stage.
The technical feasibility study is still pending. So, for conducting that study, a global tender has been asked for. However, no company has come forward to bid and accept it. The exertion for the bid has been carried out thrice, however, protest is still ongoing to stop this project.
How will this project impact the people?
The villagers are opposing this project for several valid reasons. Out of the thirteen villages which have been marked, two villages, especially Eganapuram, will no longer have their postal address, as it will be used as the airport runway. This is crucial because around 2,500 families reside there. Half the area of 10 villages is to be usurped for the project.
Is there a difference of opinion among villagers over the project?
There is no division or difference of opinion among the people of Parandur. All of them are in support of the people of Eganapuram. The state government has been trying to create division among the protesters. However, we are not ready to change our stance until we find a solution. Because the people who own the land are aware that such fertile land suitable for cultivation cannot be compensated with what the government has been offering them. In fact, if they lose this land, it will be difficult for them to find equally fertile land elsewhere for cultivation. Hence there is no division among the people because they are well aware of the effect this project could have on their livelihood.
On the government's decision to study the issue and recommend solutions.
Yes, the government’s recent decision to announce a high-level committee is definitely a positive step. However, we are yet to receive the notification for the same. Also, if two third of the people are not in favour of the project, then this project cannot proceed due to a lack of public support. Hence as a democratic state, the government should ensure the project meets all these criteria and that there isn't any serious impediment to scientific progress. However, the government’s strong statements of bringing this project to immediate action by announcing it in the assembly are what we are apprehensive of. The project needs to be transparent to the public.
On compensation for land owners...
As mentioned earlier, the government has apparently announced to compensate the villagers with an amount thrice the current market value. However, the land acquisition proceeding will be initiated for each individual’s land only after the district collector finalises the land value for each individual. So, based on that, the government’s offer is minimal, as the land here is any way of very low value. So, when there is so much valuation difference in land here as compared to nearby towns, will it be viable for them to purchase land elsewhere? Secondly, once the compensation is paid to each individual, the acquisition proceeding will be initiated, and this talk will come up again. So, all of this is pretty complicated .
On the legal battle...
Legally, there isn't much improvement, since the case still awaits judicial clearance plus there are still legal obstacles in our way. In situations like this where there is no clearance, our judiciary will go through the subject matter and if necessary, file a case for public incidents. This is a very serious issue to be dealt with.
What do you foresee?
The residents are very much still fighting to get the matter resolved. However, the government is trying hard to not let this matter spread outside the state. It has been taking actions to let the matter stay within this village and be controlled specifically. It's a people's movement. Of course, it will spread from town to town, but here the residents and villagers are completely under the government’s surveillance. Recently, on the occasion of the two hundredth day of our protest, when I made a visit, they didn't allow me. They are clearly trying to silence our voices.