The Aranmula airport project which is at the centre of a raging political storm in Kerala, has run into fresh trouble with the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) expressing serious reservations over the land use changes and ecological imbalance that the project will entail.

In its comments on the third report of the Legislative Committee on Environment, KSBB warned that the conversion of paddy fields and water bodies for the construction of the airport would lead to water scarcity as well as flooding in the neighbouring areas.

“Of the 500 acres earmarked for the project, 400 acres are paddy field. The runway for the airport is being constructed over the Kozhithode canal, a tributary of the Pamba. Many hills in the neighbourhood will have to be razed for soil to reclaim the fields, a process that could lead to biodiversity loss and water shortage,” the report says.

The Rs.3,000-crore private airport project is already facing stiff opposition from environment activists who hold that it will adversely affect the ecology of Aranmula. The detractors also question the need for a fifth airport in a small State like Kerala.

The KSBB report noted that the conversion of a portion of the 3,500-acre paddy field would impact on the remaining wetlands, disturb the food chain, and accelerate the depletion of fish resources as well as other flora and fauna in the Pamba river basin. Observing that several species of fish migrated upstream from the river through the canals to the water-logged paddy fields, it said the reclamation of wetlands would deprive the fish of their breeding grounds. The board recommended a series of conservation programmes to ensure that the airport project did not impact on the biodiversity of the region. It cautioned against filling up of the canals in the project site and recommended a massive afforestation campaign to create a green belt around the airport and the hills that were razed for soil.

The report stressed the need to identify and protect the breeding grounds of fish and release hatchlings into the canal. It also called for an environment monitoring mechanism involving panchayat-level Biodiversity Management Committees.

Highlighting the need for a rainwater harvesting system for the airport, the report said the promoters should be responsible for the supply of drinking water in the parched areas in the vicinity. It called for a joint effort by the Department of Agriculture and panchayats in the neighbourhood of the project site to continue paddy farming in the remaining fields.

The report has been submitted to the government.