Green tribunal cancels clearance for Aranmula airport project

KPM BASHEER | | Updated on: Mar 12, 2018

For Transport Page : the project site of KGS Aranmula International Airport.Photo : T.E. Raja SimhanTo go with Raja Simhan's report | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

Verdict a setback to KGS Group, Chandy Govt

The National Green Tribunal’s verdict on Wednesday cancelling the environmental clearance given to the KGS Group to build the country’s first private greenfield international airport at Aranmula is a huge setback for the company as well as Kerala’s Oommen Chandy Government.

Though KGS has said it would move the Supreme Court, environmentalists and politicians opposing the ₹2,000 crore project believe the verdict by the Chennai Bench of the NGT has effectively sealed the fate of the controversial airport which has faced opposition right from the word go.

The tribunal—on a batch of petitions by the Aranmula Heritage Protection Council, environmentalists and political parties—ordered the KGS not to undertake any construction activities in the project area.

The tribunal struck down the environmental clearance given by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests which was based on the recommendations of the expert appraisal committee. The tribunal found the recommendations faulty on two counts: one, Environcare, the agency that carried out the environmental impact study, was not an accredited agency; and two, the public hearing by the appraisal committee had not followed the norms set for the purpose.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front, which backs the project, had argued before the tribunal that since the project related to a government policy matter the tribunal could not intervene; that it was in the larger public interest of people of Kerala and that the petitioners had ill-motive.

Harish Vasudevan, counsel for one of the petitioners, told Business Line that if KGS wanted to go ahead with the project it would have to begin from the scratch, starting from the application process. It had the option to move the Supreme Court to seek a judicial review of tribunal’s verdict (the tribunal has the status of a High Court.)

Environmental organisations happy

Political parties such as the BJP, CPI and CPI(M) as well as several environmental organisations and conservation groups have welcomed the verdict. V.S. Achuthanandan, CPI(M) leader and former Chief Minister, in a public statement, said the verdict was a major setback for Oommen Chandy’s government, while Chandy pointed out that it was the Achuthanandan Government that had given the preliminary approval for the Aranamula airport project. (The CPI(M) had, during the Lok Sabha electioneering, jumped on the anti-airport campaign). Chandy’s government had all through supported the project, despite a majority of ruling party MLAs petitioning him not to.

Sugathakumari, environmental activist and well-known poet, who was in the forefront of the anti-airport agitation, profusely thanked the tribunal for the wonderful verdict. She had contended that the airport would cause irreparable damage to Aranmula’s biodiversity, wetlands and paddy fields as well as its culture and heritage.

BJP State president V. Muraleedharan, hailing the verdict, told mediapersons that the BJP was totally against the airport. The BJP had run its Lok Sabha campaign in the Pathanamthitta constituency which covers the temple town of Aranmula, on its opposition to the airport. It had said the control towers of the proposed airport would rise above the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple and would thus violate the sanctity of the temple. It was expected that the BJP State unit would press the Modi Government to cancel the airport’s approval.

Now the question is whether KGS, which has sunk a huge sum of money in the project, pack up and go home or will it redo the project in spite of the formidable opposition from political parties and influential environmental groups?

Published on May 28, 2014
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