Minister for Environment Alina Saldanha, on Sunday asked the people to stay united on the demand to get the Navy shifted from Dabolim airport in south Goa to Karwar, where the Naval base is located.
"Once this goal is achieved, Dabolim airport will be for Goans(civilian use) only and there will not be a need for an alternate airport," she said while participating in a public debate organised on Sunday by Cansaulim Arossim Cuelim Civic and Consumer Forum (CACCCF) and Cansaulim Villagers Action Committee (CVAC) in Casaulim in south Goa, which forms part of her Assembly constituency. Representatives from the BJP and AAP participated in the public debate on "Future of Dabolim Airport".
The controversy over whether Goa needed a new airport proposed to come up at Mopa in Pernem in north Goa or should it continue with expanded Dabolim airport with more civilian use of the airport, presently under Naval jurisdiction, is once again getting revived as parliamentary elections are round the corner.
Ms. Saldanha who was elected unopposed from Cortalim constituency after the demise of her husband and BJP Minister Matanhy Saldanha, stated that the past is always linked with the future, more so in the case of Dabolim Airport.
She recalled that late Saldanha, who as an environmentalist and leader of traditional fisherfolk, had facts and evidence that the Navy was illegally occupying the Dabolim Airport and he was of the firm opinion that the Indian Navy should shift to Sea Bird, Karwar. According to her, evidence shows Dabolim airport was the civilian airport of Goa.
She said that the Daboilm airport had been taken over in 1961 as war booty during the liberation of Goa by the Indian Army. Subsequently, in 1962, after the Chinese aggression, the Navy continued to hold on to the Dabolim airport on the basis of the Defence of India Act 1962. The act being temporary in nature expired in 1968 and, therefore, the Dabolim airport should have been returned by the Navy to civilian authority.
Fr. Eremito Rebello, who is spearheading the cause of only Dabolim airport and opposing the second airport, representing Goans for Dabolim Only(GFDO) reiterated his stand and quoted AICAO report saying that two airports are not feasible. He stated that the needs of the State are taken care of by the Dabolim airport after its latest expansion.
GFDO, which has been for long mobilising people to oppose Mopa airport fearing huge land that would go into the project, including agricultural land, has also the backing of Church.
The new entrant to Goan politics, AAP, is yet to take any position on the issue of Mopa and Dabolim, said AAP leader Rajashri Nagarsekar. Political observers say that though the Congress and ruling BJP both favoured dual airport, they refrained from backing the new Mopa airport proposal in view of the stiff opposition from the Catholics.
While erstwhile Congress government cleared Mopa airport proposal obtaining an assurance from the Centre that Dabolim will not be closed for civilian use, Mr. Parrikar who toes same line, has been cautioning people that Dabolim has been already overcrowded and Mopa is needed for future expansion.