Aranmula Victory

One of the first agencies that gave a detailed report on the environmental hazards the proposed KGS Green Field Airport Limited project at Aranmula can cause was the Salim Ali Foundation. According their report released in 2012, the possible ecological, social and economic impact of the project would be suicidal to an entire sensitive zone. The project would result in the destruction of 400 acres of wetland and indirectly affect 3,500 acres of wetland.

The foundation also criticized the move that marked the area as an industrial site, on February 24, 2011, just before the state assembly elections. Later, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by Enviro Care India Private Limited recommended to the Ministry of Environment and Forests that the project should be cleared.

It was suspected that the EIA team had made the recommendations without even visiting the site, without mentioning anything on the 400 acres of wetland and paddy fields that was to be reclaimed. There was no mention on the quantity and source of sand required for this, which would mount up to 96 lakh tones. 7.55 kld of water per day was also required, which was to be provided mainly by borewells, leading to serious exploitation of groundwater resources. With the destruction of wetland, groundwater in much of the area will not be re-charged.

Apart from this, 212 species of plants in the region, of which 27 are endemic to the Western Ghats, 110 important for medicinal properties and 88 being wetland species, stand to be lost if the project materialized. Along with this, 60 species of fishes found in the region, 42 per cent of which is endemic to the Western Ghats, 6.6 per cent endangered, five per cent vulnerable and 48 per cent of high commercial value will also be lost. As for bird life, 80 species of birds, with an additional 85 species have been recorded by the Kottayam Nature Society.

The region threatened by the project was also an apex heritage spot in and around the famous Parthasarathy temple. The world famous Aranmula Vallam Kali or boat race, which is associated with snake boat building, arts and crafts, is held here as a people’s initiative through several generations. Aranmula is also home to the master craftsmen who make the traditional metal mirrors called Aranmula Kannadi. There are innumerable temples, sacred groves, hill shrines dotting the entire area around the Parthasarathy Temple, the area ear marked for the airport. This massive project had the potential to displace the native people with their invaluable cultural heritage and also neutralize the holy town.

The airport project was also to wound the sentiments of scores of devotees: the mast of Sreeparthasarathy Temple would have to be cut down in size, if the airport project was to take shape. This infuriated a large section of society too.

From the very first day, under Kummanam’s stewardship, various camps were organized for unifying the protest meets. A reckoning force, along with Sugathakumari, he gave a specific direction to the remonstrations organized by Sangh Parivar, thereby bringing together people of various organizations. The entry gave a bountiful momentum to the protest movement. Fondly known as Rajettan, Kummanam was chiefly instrumental in bringing the spokespersons of Aranmula’s culture and heritage under a single umbrella. And for the preservation of the tiny hamlet’s cultural mileu, chartered and brought to life two organizations: the Paithrikagrama Karma Samiti and Palliyoda Pallivilakku Samiti. These samitis worked tirelessly by paying a visit to each home in Aranmula and educating the people there of the grave danger that lurked behind the airport project.

And what more, Kerala also witnessed members of various political parties and social groups setting aside ideological differences and working towards a common goal. The protest movement, which crossed a 100 days, stands as a testimonial of how Kerala society saw victory, after having stood united against the face of selfish and ulterior motives. There was nothing that could deter a mammoth camp which cast aside all hindering aspects.

The victory at Aranmula underlines the fact that a private airport project does not come under the ‘public purpose’ category. It stands to benefit only a minority. Also, the necessity for an airport at Aranmula, when Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi airports are nearby stands unwarranted. The hands that have played behind the evil scheme and design of the airport must remember that wetlands belong to the people, serving a public purpose. Government must never stoop so low to sacrifice this public property for appeasing the vested interests of a specific few.