Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Yeshwanth Shenoy - the man fighting to make your airport safe

Like all crusaders fighting for difficult causes, Yeshwanth Shenoy is a marked man. "I get threats from builders and house owners," says the 39-year-old lawyer who has single-handedly brought India's aviation regulator to pass an unprecedented demolition order on hundreds of illegal buildings around Mumbai airport.

"I get calls from people offering me money that would last me comfortably through my life," he adds ruefully, seated in a cluttered office in southern Mumbai. He doesn't want the address to be printed, saying it would alert people who are looking for him. The office isn't his. A friend "generously lets me use it."

A sheaf of papers close at hand is weighed down by a plastic toy aeroplane. He uses the plane to illustrate at court hearings. He also makes thermocol models of airports for those illustrations, one for each hearing. The toy aircraft is a constant. Shenoy is also broke. He says he has enough money to last him till December. After that, he plans to crowdfund fees and expenses incurred in his cases. "After all, I am doing it for the people."

Last month, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) sent notices to 70 buildings surrounding the airport to reduce height by 1-6 metres to avoid hindering the flight path of Mumbai airport. These are just the first set of summons. A total of 437 such buildings have been identified. The DGCA's mandate follows a Bombay High Court order in August last year saying all such buildings should be demolished or broken to their permissible heights.

The order was a result of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Shenoy in June 2014 and doggedly pursued by him thereafter. Shenoy, a resident of Ernakulam, Kerala, for the most part of his life, had nothing to do with airports and planes, except in the capacity of a traveller. A class topper at the University of Turin, Shenoy specialised in international trade and biodiversity and had a plush career ahead as a corporate lawyer.
03/08/17 Anirban Chowdhury/Economic Times