Aranmula Airport Can't Get Past Green Tribunal

Controversial project near Sabarimala, just stone’s throw from Parthasarathy temple, grounded by NGT citing incompetence of agency which conducted environmental assessment; also points to violations in public hearing conducted with local residents

Published: 29th May 2014 07:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th May 2014 09:37 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday set aside the environmental clearance granted to the proposed Aranmula International Airport near Kerala’s renowned Sabarimala Temple, halting the controversial `2,000-crore project.

The verdict is seen as a major victory for local residents and activists who strongly oppose the proposed airport as it involves large-scale illegal conversion of 211 acres of paddy fields and alleged ecological impact in the region.

Pronouncing its verdict on a batch of petitions filed against the project, the southern bench of the tribunal consisting of Justice M Chokalingam and expert member R Nagendran observed that there were procedural lapses in the grant of environmental clearance for the airport by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The tribunal said that Enviro Care India Private Ltd, the private agency that conducted the environment impact assessment for the project, was incompetent to conduct the study. There were also violations in the public hearing condcted with the local residents over the project.

For the above reasons the tribunal restrained KGS International Airport Limited, a Chennai-based company that is executing the project, from carrying out any activity, constructional or otherwise, with respect of the proposed airport on the strength of the environmental clearance granted by the Union ministry.

The tribunal had already issued an interim stay on the greenfield airport in January.

On Wednesday,  as soon as the verdict was pronounced by the tribunal, located in Chennai, the NGO and political party members who had gathered here celebrated the verdict by distributing sweets. “The tribunal has clearly restrained any activity on the proposed site and has also upheld that there were lapses in conducting the public hearing,” said advocate R Krishna Raj, who appeared on behalf of Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council, one of the petitioners in the case.

The project was proposed in 2009, on a site just 400 metres from the sacred Pamba river and the renowned Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. It was promoted as much needed air connectivity to central Kerala for NRI devotees of the temple. However, the project soon ran into trouble with opposition from environmental activists and local residents. The main contention of the petitioners is that the KGS group and the Kerala government suppressed several facts and possible environmental impacts to get clearance from the Union ministry. No public notice was issued before conducting the public hearing with local residents over the project. The petitioners submitted several reports by officials of the Kerala government to show that the government had suppressed facts to get clearance for the project.

Though the Left Democratic Front regime granted in-principle approval for the project in 2009, it was widely perceived that the Congress-led Kerala government was keen on promoting the project despite opposition from local residents.

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