Director of Environment and Climate Change Directorate inspects airport project site at Aranmula

The row over the proposed private airport project at Aranmula has taken a new turn with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) reportedly taking a serious view of the conversion of paddy fields and wetlands for setting up the project.

The MoEF had taken note of a report in The Hindu on February 2 (Airport project triggers widespread protest) and sought clarifications from the State government on the allegations that the site identified for the project included paddy fields and wetlands.

P.Sreekantan Nair, Director of the Environment and Climate Change (ECC) Directorate attached to the Environment Department, accompanied by Paulus Eapen, District Environmental Engineer, inspected the paddy fields and wetlands identified for the project on Wednesday on the basis of an MoEF directive.

Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Sreekantan Nair said the MoEF was yet to give clearance for the airport project, despite the National Expert Environment Impact Assessment Authority recommending the same on the basis of an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by a Chennai-based consultant.

The Union Ministry had also taken a serious note of the ongoing agitation against the project by the People's Action Council, Palliyoda-Pallivilakku Samrakshana Samiti, Pampa Parirakshana Samiti, and the Darpanam Cultural Society as well as the objections raised by socio-environmental activists Sugathakumari and Medha Patkar and certain findings of V.S. Vijayan, former State Biodiversity Board Chairman.

Mr. Sreekantan Nair said he inspected the paddy fields (Aranmula puncha), wetlands, and ‘Thettikkavu', a sacred grove closely associated with Sree ParthasarathyTemple at Aranmula that come under the proposed site of the project.

Action council leaders, environmentalists, and P.T. Nandakumar, executive director of the private airport company, called on the ECC Director.

The situation turned tense when Mr. Nandakumar said no outsiders would be permitted to enter into the company's property.

However, the ECC Director said it was he who summoned the action council leaders as part of the inquiry- cum- inspection.

Action council leaders and local people accompanied Mr. Nair to Valiyathode, a stream leading to the Pampa, stretches of which had been illegally converted, and to the vast expanse of paddy fields illegally converted in the name of the airport project.

Environmentalists criticised the “undisclosed and incorrect information in the EIA report provided by the private firm to the MoEF''.

They said the project area was a wetland and riparian floodplain area of the Pampa with a fragile ecosystem.

They alleged that the project site was a paddy field and it required conversion of 347.556 acres for developing the airport, which had not been mentioned in the EIA submitted to the MoEF.

Mr. Nair said he would submit a detailed report to the government soon.