THOOTHUKUDI: The 2,500-acre British-built airbase near Kayathar, which was operational during World War II, is now allegedly occupied by local politicians.
Built in the early 1940s, the airbase saw its closure when the British left India. In due course the buildings fell to repair, except for one which bore no signs of war-related activities.
In 2009, the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced that Kayathar airbase would be developed to catapult the peninsular tip into a defence hub and planned to station LCA Tejas, the country’s first indigenous light combat aircraft, there.
The IAF also announced that the airbase, when developed, would keep a tight vigil on sensitive pockets such as Lakshadweep.
But with no activity in sight, the lands have been occupied by local heavyweights, claimed a source.
Located in Pannerkulam panchayat, the airbase has vast tracts of land, 75 per cent of which has been encroached. All the encroached lands, except those along the Kayathar-Kadambur road, have been fenced. The runway near which buildings have come up is used now for drying paddy and maize.
The encroachers, the source says, claim to belong to a Zamin family which had donated the land to the British. Though the residents of the village do not attach great importance to the historic airstrip, octogenarian Veliah Konar of Paneerkulam has some cherishing memories.
He remembers the base in its prime and laments that it is now encroached.
An official attached to the Investigation Wing of the Tamil Nadu Police said that the airstrip is still so strong that flight landing and take-off can be handled throughout the day.
“The centre had asked the state government to acquire the 2,500 acres for setting up an airbase and the process of identification of land will begin soon,” Kovilpatti RDO S Kannabiran told Express.
Encroachments, if any, would be removed before acquisition, he said.