Sunday, July 19, 2020

In Kerala, development projects cleared amid lockdown threaten the state’s ecological balance

While Kerala government is facing extreme financial constraints in the ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, what has raised eyebrows is the move to set up a full-fledged international greenfield airport about 48 km from the famous pilgrim centre of Sabarimala.

The airport would be the fifth in the small state, while its fourth airport, established in Kannur, is yet to emerge as an economically viable project. The proposed airport project, however, has been stayed by the Kerala High Court.

The proposed airport will come up in a 2,263-acre rubber plantation, named Cheruvally Estate, which was created during the British rule. In the process, the government is choosing to ignore all environmental laws apart from the Kerala rules related to land reforms and land redistribution. The rules direct the government to take over the defunct estates with expired lease agreements and either convert them as forests or distribute them among landless people.
The proposed airport will be located 48 km from the proposed Sabarimala pilgrimage centre. Credit: Arun Sankar/AFP
Though many serious changes in land use patterns have occurred in the area over the years, the proposed airport site continues to remain environmentally crucial because a number of streams contributing to the River Pampa are flowing through the estate. These will be reclaimed once the works of the airport would begin.

As the lease period of the plantation has already expired, the land was needed to integrate with surrounding forests to expand green cover of the region, which was under threat in the recent years due to heavy flow of pilgrims to Sabarimala and subsequent commercial activity on the hills.

According to environmental activist John Peruvanthanam, the construction of the airport would cause razing down of several hillocks in the present estate, in which pineapple is being cultivated now. The hillocks are crucial for the local environment, he said. Large scale commercial activity as part of the airport would adversely affect the fragile ecology of Pampa and Sabarimala portions of Western Ghats, which are already under stress, he pointed out.
“The area had seen large scale flooding and devastation in the last two annual floods. The situation may turn bizarre once the airport comes. Cochin International Airport constructed on low lying paddy fields is getting closed during every monsoon due to massive flooding. Same may be the situation here also. Above all, the government is yet to make public the environmental impact study on the new airport project. Authorities are bound to release it early,” he said.
19/07/20 KA Shaji/
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