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Tamil Nadu's New Airport At Parandur Will Be An Ecological Disaster, Say Environmentalists

Factors like impact on agriculture and water resources and the resultant human displacement were not considered before selecting the location

Shahina KK
A farmer farming in Egnapuram village Photo: Shahina KK
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The residents of 13 villages in Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu, who have been protesting for more than 600 days now and are opposing the new airport that is slated to come up in Parandur, about 80 kilometres from Chennai, say they are not against development, but they just want to know why Parandur was chosen when there were other viable options.

Parandur was one of the four locations selected by the Tamil Nadu government for the proposed airport. The Airport Authority of India (AAI) shortlisted two—Pannur and Parandur. The government finalised Parandur but has not properly explained the rationality behind this decision, say the farmers, now facing displacement due to the proposed greenfield airport.

“Another site (Pannur) under consideration for the project has fewer households and fewer water bodies compared to Parandur. Only 250 families would have been affected in Pannur, whereas in our area, 1,005 families face displacement. We do not oppose the construction of the airport. Our concern lies in understanding why this specific location is being pushed for when alternatives are available,” questions Subramani, the secretary of the protest committee.

Initially, the state government had identified four potential sites for the proposed airport—Parandur, Pannur, Thiruporur and Padalam. Following a feasibility study conducted by the AAI, Parandur and Pannur emerged as the most suitable locations. Following recommendations from the AAI, Parandur was ultimately selected as the site for the airport, taking into account several factors outlined by the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO), the nodal agency overseeing the project. As per the pre-feasibility study carried out by TIDCO …“Based on the AAI’s recommendation, due diligence, and consideration of factors such as land availability, travel distance, infrastructure development cost, airspace availability and existing obstacles around site, the government of Tamil Nadu finalised the site at Parandur for the development of the greenfield airport.”

According to the report, Parandur features a greater abundance of water bodies compared to Pannur. At the same time, Pannur hosts seven existing industrial establishments, while Parandur does not have any. Additionally, numerous extra-high-tension towers were observed in and around the Pannur site.

Although the government finalised Parandur for the proposed airport after considering various factors, it is evident that land availability primarily drove the site selection for the project. As per the Government Order (GO) issued on October 31, 2023, land availability in Parandur is deemed adequate and suitable for the current project requirements and desired runway orientation. Furthermore, the land value in Pannur is three times higher than that of Parandur. Additionally, while the nearest railway station in Pannur is located 10 km away, the present site at Parandur is only 4.5 km from the nearest railway station.

The GO also notes that man-made obstacles such as high-tension lines are fewer, and there is ample land free of structures available in Parandur for future airport development. The long and short of it is that agriculture, water resources and human displacement are the least considered factors while finalising a place for constructing the airport.

Environmental activists are proposing alternative ideas for airport development in Tamil Nadu. “In addition to Chennai, there are three more international airports in Tamil Nadu such as Madurai, Coimbatore, and Trichy. There is one more airport at Thoothukkudy. All these airports have immense potential for expansion, which has been under consideration,” says G Sunderrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental protection organisation. According to him, the construction of the airport at Parandur is poised to become an ecological disaster. The disappearance of water bodies in the project area would also adversely impact agriculture across 22,000 acres of agricultural land lying outside the project area. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the project is yet to be released, further fuelling suspicion among the people. “We will go to court against this project, but the government has not provided us with details of the project,” says Bhaskar, a farmer in Nelvoy village.

The Parandur Airport project was announced in February 2022, and the first notification for land acquisition was issued for acquiring land from Padavur, one of the 13 villages in Parandur. The protest that began in February 2022 has crossed 600 days. People are still in the dark regarding the compensation package and rehabilitation. No discussions have been conducted with the people of the village so far.

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