Protests against Chennai’s second airport in Parandur complete 100 days

Dubbing the project an extravagance, farmer leaders asked what the need for a greenfield airport is in a state with poorly utilised brownfield airports such as the Sholavaram airbase.
Parandur residents protests against Chennai’s second airport
Parandur residents protests against Chennai’s second airport
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Protests against Chennai’s second airport in Parandur entered the 100th day on Thursday, November 3. Residents of 13 villages stand to lose their ancestral properties, which include houses and agricultural land, if the project is implemented in Tamil Nadu's Kancheepuram district. The people of Eganapuram, one of the 13 villages, had earlier decided to shave their heads to mark 100 days of resistance. The protest was called off on Thursday following discussions with District Collector M Aarthi and Superintendent of Police Sudhakar. The villagers will continue their evening agitation as usual. 

Parandur residents started their protest against the airport in August this year. They have come together at Eganapuram to pass three resolutions against the proposed airport so far. The first two resolutions were passed on August 15 on the occasion of Independence day, and on Gandhi Jayanti, October 2. The latest was on November 1. Students from the villages also boycotted school in a show of solidarity. During the course of the past three months, several multilevel meetings were also held between the villagers and the district administration, MLAs and state ministers. Dissatisfied with the results of such discussions, the residents continue to protest against the project, despite being offered three times the market value for their property. 

Tamil Nadu Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu was part of a team that met with Parandur residents after they announced a foot march towards the Legislative Assembly on October 17, the day the assembly session was set to begin. Along with the Ministers of Public Works and Rural Industries EV Velu and TM Anbarasan, Thangam Thennarasu had then promised the residents that the team would convey their concerns to Chief Minister MK Stalin. Based on the outcome of the meeting, the residents called off the foot march protest. However, the promises made in the meeting were not fulfilled.

“After a meeting with the ministers, they had promised us that our concerns will be conveyed to Chief Minister MK Stalin. But there have been no developments from the government’s side after the meeting. Instead, Minister Thangam Thennarasu has made a speech about the importance of the greenfield airport. We are hurt by the move,” said an Eganapuram resident. The villager was referring to a speech made by Thennarasu on November 2, in which he spoke on the need for a second airport in Chennai and called it the best example of a socio-economic project that will uplift the lives of people from Parandur and its neighbourhood.

"In the existing airport, we cannot do much beyond an upgrade. So we had to look at the two districts adjoining Chennai for a second airport. One is Tiruvallur and the other Kancheepuram. As they are filled with lakes and agricultural lands, we have to buy cultivation land for the airport," he said in a conference titled ‘Greenfield Airport: Timely initiative to fast track TN's growth’ at Hotel Taj Connemara in Chennai. The event was organised by the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation Limited. 

At the conference, Thennarasu explained how Parandur was identified for the airport project. "We identified 11 sites and finalised four among them. As we have faced several constraints near Meenambakkam airport, we also considered issues pertaining to sites outside Chennai. Southwards of Chennai, there is the Kalpakkam atomic energy plant, Tambaram airbase and the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary. There is the Pulicat lake in the north. We cannot disturb these ecosystems. There are many security constraints too. So we picked Parandur as it poses fewer challenges," he said. 

Political outfits and environmental organisations have conducted field visits and released their assessments, and demanded that the government rethink the greenfield airport. Poovulagin Nanbargal, a Tamil Nadu-based environment protection organisation, has warned the Tamil Nadu government of an ecological disaster if it goes ahead with the project in Parandur. It alleged that Parandur residents were being denied their democratic rights. A seven-page report released by Poovulagin Nanbargal stated that the construction of an airport will lead to flooding and loss of natural habitats as the proposed site is made up of wetlands.    

"All of us have been protesting against this airport since the day it was announced. MLAs held a meeting with us a month back. But nothing turned in our favour," said a woman from Nagapattu, another village earmarked for the airport. "The rain is pouring here. But our people gather around 7 pm every day, after we finish our work, and protest for two hours. Even school children and elder citizens participate in the evening protests," she added. Nagapattu residents conduct their protests near the Palandiyamman temple in the village. 

"There is no way to know what we will lose if the government goes ahead with the project. No officers have visited our villages. They conduct occasional meetings wherever they see fit and leave," said another Parandur resident. She voiced her worries about the project, "This announcement makes us panic even though they have promised us compensation. I work in the farmlands and don't know any other job to raise my kids. We don't have a clue what we are going to do in a new place.” 

In the last three months, security has been tightened in the villages. Visitors now have to clear a severe enquiry by the police at the check-posts erected in the area. Some prominent farmer association leaders were detained and sent back. 

Palaniappan, the coordinator of the Movement against Eight Lane Way, called the 100-day protest a failure of the government. He was among the many farmer leaders who were detained by the Kancheepuram police on their way to Parandur in support of the protest. “DMK won the elections not only on the back of lofty promises but also by standing with the people who protested against the projects of the former AIADMK government. However, Stalin is now repeating what AIADMK did in the past. During the protests against the eight-lane expressway, Stalin, who was then the opposition leader, had said that the people's opinion was important. But in this airport project, no feedback has been sought from the people of Parandur. We request MK Stalin to be who he was before the 2021 elections,” he said. 

Palaniappan further argued that there are no guidelines or laws that allow a new airport within 50 km of the existing airport. “It is a violation of both the law and people’s rights. Stalin should approach the people to explain the pros and cons of the project. The government never sought the opinion of the people before the announcement. The people of Parandur came to know about the matter on television. The DMK government has changed Kancheepuram into Kashmir,” he accused, adding that this was nothing but a replica of Prime Minister Modi’s government.  

He went on to ask, “The airport at Parandur is a public-private partnership project. Will the Chief Minister reveal who is going to be a partner in this project?” While calling the airport an extravagance, Palaniappan also asked what is the need for a greenfield airport in a state where many brownfield airports are not utilised properly. He pointed to the example of the Sholavaram airbase. "In the case of brownfield airports, the government will have the upper hand. But if the government opts for a greenfield airport, the private organisations in the project will be the stronger parties,” he added. 

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