The new terminal building of the Mangalore airport at Kenjar, which is likely to be inaugurated soon, has permanently deprived a small settlement of Dalits of access to the outside world.
The compound wall of the Rs. 165-crore terminal, which came up around two years ago, has blocked the only access road that connected the residents of the Bonkuri Dalit settlement with the main road in Kenjar Padavu. “On one side there is a wall. On the other side there is a private property and the remaining two sides are bounded by steep hills. Where do we go,” asked Baby (45), when The Hindu visited the settlement recently.
Bonkuri is a small settlement of 10 huts situated on a hillside along the road that leads to Bajpe. The colony is concealed by thick foliage and is invisible from the main road. Around 13 years ago, each of the 10 families was granted five cents of land there by the Government.
Bonkuri is named after a fresh-water spring situated there. The animal track that leads to the settlement involves crawling through thorny bushes and there are slippery drops at a few places.
“I have to stop to catch my breath at least two or three times every time I climb up,” said K. Ramesh (50), a resident. Rohini (40) said, “When we buy our monthly groceries, we make two trips to haul the supplies home.” Ms. Baby has more serious concerns. “What if there is a medical emergency? By the time we get the patient out, things may go out of control,” she said. D. Krishnappa, convener of the local unit of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS), said, “In the mid 1990s, we fought to get this land allotted to Dalits. But when the residents are about to settle down here, this new problem has surfaced.”
Led by the DSS, the residents are now demanding that the district authorities provide them with an alternative access road. “If they cannot do that then let them give the residents alternative sites,” says Mr. Krishnappa.
The DSS and the local people now plan to disrupt the opening ceremony of the new terminal building by staging a protest on that day. “We will block the new road that leads to the airport on the inauguration day. We want to show everyone the faces of these poor people who have been forsaken for this multi-crore project,” said Mr. Krishnappa. V.N. Chandran, Director of the Airport, told The Hindu on Monday that the acquisition process had been completed by the State Government. “We have built the wall on land that has been granted to us. Issues such as these are under the State Government’s jurisdiction,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner for Mangalore Taluk Prabhulinga Kavalakatti said that the Revenue Department was working on a solution to the problem. “I visited the spot a week ago and it is a very tough place to approach,” he said. However, he conceded that no concrete action had yet been considered. “I will have to sit with the Deputy Commissioner and figure out a solution,” he said.