Say over 90 acres of wetlands converted in the last one decade

The controversy over the proposed private international airport project at Aranmula has taken curious turns with the Cabinet decision to regularise conversion of paddy fields and wetlands that have taken place prior to 2005 as well as the clearances reportedly given by various government agencies for the project, allegedly violating prevailing laws, rules and regulations.

“Both the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communist Party of India(Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front were equally responsible for the violations taken place in the name of the airport project at Aranmula, leaving the environment, eco system and the hapless villagers at the receiving end,’’ said V.N. Gopinatha Pillai, vice-president, All-Kerala River Protection Council.

Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Pillai said the illegal conversion of the biodiversity-rich wetlands and Aranmula Puncha (paddy fields) began during the tenure of the UDF government headed by A.K. Antony in 2003 and the illegal activity continued during the successive governments headed by Oommen Chandy and V.S. Achuthanandan.

‘Protests silenced’

“The protests by the local peasants and farm worker groups against the unabated illegal land conversion at Aranmula were deftly silenced by certain vested interests attached to various mainstream political parties. The local protests too turned out to be mere cries in the wilderness in the backdrop of the ‘ambitious development agenda’ aired by the land mafia with the strong backing of the official-politician nexus,” Mr. Pillai said.

In the past one decade, the land mafia had converted as many as 90 acres of paddy fields, bulldozing an adjoining hill they purchased for the purpose, he said.

The authorities concerned and the government had not only turned a blind eye towards the wanton paddy field conversion but also given every support to the illegal activity, he alleged. One could easily perceive blatant violations of key directives issued by the Supreme Court and the High Court with regard to environment protection and wetland conservation at Aranmula.

Now, the government has decided to legalise all land conversions taken place prior to 2005 in a desperate attempt to protect the land mafia and save them from the clutches of law, he alleged.

P. Induchoodan, convener of the Palliyoda-Pallivilakku Samrakshana Samiti that has been campaigning against the land conversion, said there was every reason to suspect the involvement of top-level leaders of certain mainstream national parties in the airport scam.

Probe into monetary source

Mr. Induchoodan said the samiti had already demanded a detailed investigation by a Central agency into the monetary source of the promoter company and various transactions taken place in the name of the airport project.

The over-enthusiasm shown by certain Congress leaders and two MPs in supporting the private company and the airport project was suspicious, he alleged.

Even the Legislative Committee on Environment chaired by C.P. Mohammed had expressed serious concern over the anti-environment activities taking place at Aranmula. Panel member and former Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran, and the socio-environmental activist Medha Patkar, have also demanded a CBI probe into the Aranmula airport scam.

The promoter company claimed to have obtained all necessary clearances, including the one from the Union Ministry of Environment, for the proposed airport project, said P. Prasad, environmentalist and district secretary of the Communist Party of India.

Even the Prime Minister’s Office had been brought under the shadow of suspicion with the promoters’ statement that T.K.A. Nair, Prime Minister’s advisor, had helped them obtain various clearances for the project, Mr. Prasad said.

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