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Mangalore Airport Expansion In Doldrums

Vyas Sivanand - Bangalore

Mangalore’s hope for mobility, which was supposed to achieve some sort of yield by the end of last year, with the internationalisation of the Bajpe airport, 20 km from Mangalore, has been thrashed.

The development of the airport, which primarily involves extension of the existing runway from 4,500 feet to 8,000 feet in order to facilitate the operation of international flights, has been a long-standing demand of trade and industry interests in this region. Even today, there is no progress with that regard. “There is absolutely no development on ground. The land has been acquired, and affected communities, constituting mostly Dalit families have moved out”, says Leo Saldanha of Environment Survey Group. The internationalisation of the airport is expected to make a marked difference to the entire economy of coastal Karnataka.

The History
The Mangalore airport came into existence nearly 50 years ago in 1953 to cater to Dakota aircraft. Over the years, it was modified to accommodate Avros and Boeing 737s. The new Rs 100-crore upgradation proposal hopes to make the airport more conducive to the aspirations of the new globalised era. The land required for the expansion project was to be handed over to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) as soon as the rehabilitation of those evicted from the site was completed by December 2002.
Apparently, the state government seems to have allotted Rs six crore for resettlement and rehabilitation. But the government has, off and on, reiterated its commitment to expand the airport to facilitate direct mobility of goods and people from Mangalore to Dubai.

The Supreme Court of India has clarified in its recent order that “in constructing the Airport” (2nd runway and Terminal Tower at Mangalore), “the government shall comply with all applicable laws and also with environmental norms”. The Airports Authority of India proposed to expand the Mangalore Airport at the behest of the Mangalore Chamber of Commerce and Industry during 1987. For various reasons the project remained without progress for long, even though land acquisition proceedings were initiated.

The Situation
A total area of 190 acres abutting the existing Mangalore Airport was identified to build a 2nd runway and Terminal Tower to enable landings of Airbus 320 class of aircraft, and also for international flight movements. But the land identified for building the 2nd runway involved a topography which was inherently unsuitable for the building of an airport, as it would never allow compliance with any national and international standard for airport construction and design. A more appropriate location for the expansion however was not even considered, as the acquisition of such lands would displace about 70 large landholding families, most being highly connected politically. Instead, the government of Karnataka decided to acquire land that would displace 208 families, mostly from a Dalit background.

“It would be difficult for the Airports Authority of India to justify how they chose this land, given its obvious inability to comply with airport design and development standards. A more appropriate location was not acquired because of political influence,” says Saldanha.

There seem to be specific violations of standards in the proposed land. The minimum required width of the basic strip for an instrument runway has to be 300 meters. The proposed second runway has a total physical width of only 200 meters. Secondly, an techno-economic feasibility report should be the basis for acquisition of land, but no such report exists till date. Thirdly, an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project is mandatory. Such a study is yet to be initiated. Lastly, a proposal detailing the scheme should be made public for comment as per the Town and Country Planning Act for a period of sixty days. This has not been made available.

Several petitions have been filed by the Environment Survey Group, which the Court dismissed. But it however ordered the “Authorities concerned have to complete all formalities as per law before commencement of the project”.

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