In a major boost to the proposed Sabarimala International Greenfield Airport in Erumeli, the state government has issued a modified order sanctioning land acquisition for the project. As per the new order issued on Friday, a total of 1,039.876 hectares (2,570 acres) of land in Erumeli South and Manimala villages under Kanjirappally taluk will be acquired for the airport. This includes an additional 307 acres outside the Cheruvally Estate. As informed by a news report in The New Indian Express.
The order stated that the sanction was subject to two conditions. First, a social impact assessment (SIA), as contemplated in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, will be conducted and an expert committee would be constituted to evaluate the SIA report.
Ownership dispute unlikely to affect land acquisition
Second, the final order to proceed with the land acquisition will be issued only after getting site clearance from the DGCA and Airports Authority of India. The state government had earlier submitted a revised design and techno-economic feasibility report on the proposed airport project in Erumeli to the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation after the first report was rejected by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) citing technical faults.
Though the report was submitted in June this year, the government is yet to receive approval from the DGCA. It was in June 2020 that the state issued the first order to acquire the entire 2,263.18 acres of land in Cheruvally Estate for the project, which is presently under the possession of Believers’ Church. The land, spread over Erumeli South and Manimala villages, was proposed as the most suitable one for the airport by a three-member committee, led by former additional chief secretary P H Kurien.
However, the ownership of the land is in dispute and the Kottayam district administration had filed a civil case in a Sub-Court in Pala against Believers’ Church, claiming its ownership. The hearing in the case has been completed and it is pending judgment. “The government has submitted all the relevant documents to the court. If the order is in favour of the government, there is no need to acquire the land. If it is not, then the government can proceed with the land acquisition process after depositing the value of the land in the court,” said Kottayam District Collector P K Jayasree.
The Believers’ Church is also not against the project and their claim is on the landed property only. The Church leadership maintained that they would be ready to accept the government’s decision to acquire the land provided they acknowledge the Church’s ownership of the land. “We still stand firm on our stance. The new order doesn’t affect the Church. We will take any further step only based on the outcome of the case or any intimation from the government regarding the land issue,” said Fr Sijo Pandappallil, spokesperson of the Church.