Chennai’s second airport at Parandur will be an ecological disaster, say activists

The report by Poovulagin Nanbargal outlines a set of demands to protect the site for the second airport and also alleges abuse of power by the state against protesting residents.
Parandur Chennai second airport site
Parandur Chennai second airport site
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Poovulagin Nanbargal, a Tamil Nadu-based environmental protection organisation has warned the state government of an ecological disaster, if it goes ahead with the construction of the airport in Parandur. The group released a seven-page report on October 7, 2022, against the state government's plans to construct a second airport for Chennai and alleged that the democratic rights of Parandur’s residents are being eroded. The report makes several grave allegations of state abuses from being highly monitored by the police to denial of the right to protest.

The report states, “Government schemes are implemented in the name of the people. The Constitution of India grants people the right to reject the scheme and fight against it. But the Tamil Nadu government is denying those rights to the people.” The site for the second airport was announced on August 1, 2022, by the Minister of State for Civil Aviation Vijay Kumar Singh, after years of speculation. Residents of Parandur told TNM in the days following the announcement that they had received no warning that they stood to lose their agricultural lands. They found out about the second airport only through news channels. With continued bureaucratic apathy, protests increased from residents of Eganapuram, Nagapattu and Parandur villages. Since the area is primarily made up of wetlands, ecologists worry that the construction of an airport will lead to flooding and loss of natural habitats. 

Poovulagin’s report makes a reference to a Tamil movie on ecological disaster in its title, implying that Parandur would become an ecological disaster like the fictional village of Athipatti in the film Citizen.

Flood danger, agricultural and food security impacts

Around 1,317 acres of land of 4,563.56 acres to be acquired for Parandur airport are classified as porambokku (wasteland), the report says. It further adds that out of this 1,317 acres, nearly 955 acres are covered by lakes, ponds and small water bodies. The remaining 390 acres are grazing land. If the proposed airport is built, it will obstruct the flow of the 43 kilometre-long Kamban canal which fills nearly 85 lakes before emptying into the Sriperumbudur lake.

It is to be noted that 13 villages earmarked for Chennai's second airport are located in both the Walajabad block and Sriperumbudur block of the Kanchipuram district. The canal crosses through many villages in both these blocks including Parandur, Eganapuram, Maduramangalam and Thandalam. It is also worth noting that obstructing the canal will have a wider range of impact as nearly 22,235 acres of agricultural land are watered by the Kamban canal. 

Citing section 10 of the Land Acquisition Act, the report pointed out that agricultural land cannot be acquired for developmental projects in order to ensure food security. “Out of the total 4,563.56 acres to be acquired for Parandur airport, around 3,246 acres are agricultural land. By acquiring land used for cultivating paddy, our food security is being threatened.” The report also highlights that under the provisions of the same Act, such acquisitions of the agricultural land, can only be done “under exceptional circumstances, as a demonstrable last resort, parameters which this Parandur project does not fulfil.”

The report goes on to point out that procedures outlined in the Environmental Protection Act and the Land Acquisition Act for such a project require the government to carry out a Social Impact Assessment and an Environment Impact Assessment. Further, the opinion and permission of the public are to be obtained. These procedures have not been followed, the report says.

Further, the report cites the Union government’s guidelines to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which do not permit the construction of a new greenfield airport, like the Parandur airport, within an aerial distance of 150 kilometres from an existing civilian airport. It also adds that in the case such an airport is considered within less than 150 kilometres, the impact on the existing airport must be examined. “The airport announced to be contracted in Parandur, is from the 65 to 70 kilometres from the existing [Meenambakam] airport,” the report says. 

“Parandur residents are self-reliant and living off their agricultural lands now. Even with the compensation offered by the state government, they will not be able to buy new lands in the vicinity, as the announced airport project has driven up real estate prices a hundredfold,” adds the report. Further pointing out that the expansion of the Chennai Corporation limits to include Parandur have already led to a rise in land prices. Poovulagin Nanbargal, further raises the concern of the availability of fertile land required for paddy cultivation. 

Alternatives to Parandur and other demands

Poovulagin Nanbargal also says that 70 to 80 percent of international travellers from Chennai airport come from other districts in the state and suggests airports in places such as Madurai could be considered for developing into an international airport. “Focusing only on Chennai developmental projects does not seem to be a correct approach. There are many unused air strips in Tamil Nadu. These are located in Arakkonam, Chettinad, Cholavaram, Hosur, Khaiyadhar, Neyveli, Ramanathapuram, Salem, Sulur, Tambaram, Thanjavur, Ulundurpet and Vellore. Any of these locations can be chosen as the location for the new airport,” the report says.

Poovulgin Nanbaragal goes on to demand that the Detailed Project Report be made public. “Next, the pre-feasibility report containing the reasons for choosing the location should be published. Through this, the government's justifications regarding the need for this project can be discussed.” The environmental organisation also emphasises that, “Climate change has put human existence in question today. Protecting the environment including water bodies and ensuring food security is the need of the hour now.”

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