By Ashraf Padanna /Thiruvananthapuram
The federal expert appraisal committee on infrastructure has given its nod to the KGS Aranmula International Airport Limited to go ahead with a new environment impact assessment (EIA).
The National Green Tribunal had in May last year ordered to stop all construction activities at the airport site in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, home to a large number of expatriates, on technical grounds.
The Supreme Court later upheld the verdict questioning the competence of Enviro Care India Pvt Ltd, the agency that prepared the EIA, as it has no government accreditation.
The company’s promoters say it was not against the project as such while a section of politicians and environmental activists insist that it would have a grave impact on the ecology and defile the Parthasarathi temple nearby.
The environment ministry panel gave permission for new mandatory study accepting the promoters’ argument.
It has directed the promoters to ensure the uninterrupted flow of the natural rivulet passing through the proposed runway, which they agreed. They would now submit a revised design.
“All the issues related to the public concern, which have been raised, would be addressed during the public hearing,” the minutes of the panel meeting held on July 28, posted on the ministry’s website, says.
The promoters also submitted the copy of a fresh in-principle approval of the defence ministry, which had withdrawn it after the apex court verdict.
They also have obtained the approval from aviation and home ministries and the Kerala government.
The Committee also considered concerns raised by Kummanam Rajasekharan, president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala, and Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council.
In response, the promoters informed the panel that they were raised and addressed earlier.
Aviation ministry will issue final “in-principle approval” only after obtaining the environment clearance (EC).
“The NGT set aside the earlier EC purely on procedural issues, like the appointment of consultant and inadequate notice for the public hearing. They have now appointed RITES (a state-run agency) for conducting the fresh EIA study,” it notes.
The promoters informed the panel that the Kerala government had supported the project from the beginning and had a 10% stake in the company.
They have issued orders classifying the project site for commercial use and single window clearance.
“The airport will be a boon to millions of non-resident Indians and non-resident Keralites,” it says.
The Committee was satisfied with the clarifications of promoters and after detailed deliberations, it says, it recommended terms of reference for the mandatory study.
It suggests various measures to reduce carbon footprint like optimising the use of energy systems in buildings that should maintain a specified indoor environment conducive to the functional requirements of the building.
Protesters, including celebrated poet Sugathakumari, say the large patches of paddy fields and the rivulet were filled, and it would desecrate the temple. Others suspect the viability of a fifth international in a small state like Kerala. But people living around the site mostly support it.
Promoters are confident of the patronage of NRIs and tourists, including millions of devotees arriving at the famed Sabarimala hill shrine.
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