Mopa Airport inauguration plans hang in balance as farmers reject compensation
The Goa government has planned a greenfield airport at Goa. GMR was awarded the contract on 17 September and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to lay the foundation stone in mid-November.
But the inauguration now faces uncertainty as farmers whose land was acquired for the airport have rejected an offer for an increase in compensation and have insisted that the project be scrapped.
The new airport is planned at Mopa, a plateau in North Goa along the Maharashtra border, falling within Pernem, the constituency of the current Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar.
The farmers have opposed to the project since 2009 when their land was acquired by the Goa government without their consent using the urgency clause under the old Land Acquisition Law.
Recently, they wrote to PM Modi saying that they are BJP voters and want the government to scrap the project.
After this, Parsekar had announced that the monetary compensation for the land will be tripled and paid by 24 October. Parsekar told the press last week that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with GMR Group would be signed on 8 November so that Modi can lay a foundation stone in mid-November.
However, with farmers rejecting this offer, these plans could come into question.
No means no
The Mopa Vimantal Pidit Xetkari Samiti (Mopa Airport Affected Farmers Committee) Secretary Sandip Kambli sent a letter to Parsekar on 24 October rejecting the offer.
The letter said: "We reject any offers of increased compensation, and that we will never give up our lands, which we are required to hand over intact to the future generations by protecting them from real estate speculators and other destructive forces. We hope that you will take into consideration the right to life of the future generations and agree to our demand of conservation of our unique plateau, by relinquishing all Government claims on our lands."
The farmers belong to six villages situated around the plateau and depend on it for their groundwater recharge and use the land for seasonal farming.
The Goa government had proposed to acquire 75 lakh square metres of land on the plateau and in the villages. By April 2013, it had acquired about 50 lakh sq ms. The new increased compensation is expected to cost nearly Rs 31 crore.
The thick forests surrounding the plateau are the habitat for endangered flora and fauna, such as otters and bisons. Leopards have also been sighted in the region.
The environment clearance to the project, which was awarded on 28 October 2015, has been challenged before the National Green Tribunal's Western Zone bench in Pune on the grounds that the environment impact assessment did not take into account the farming or the endangered wildlife.
The public hearing for the clearance witnessed heated debates and the farmers insisted that the debate was kept in a far off location and their positions were not taken into consideration at all.
"The Government has violated its commitment made to the Hon'ble High Court that our livelihood issues and dependencies on the plateau would be discussed with us during the impact assessment studies. We have also not forgotten how the Government denied most of us the right to a hearing by misusing the urgency clause in the earlier acquisition laws," the letter sent to Parsekar by the affected farmers said.
While the government maintains that the project has limited environment impact and that it has followed legal processes, activists have also assailed the project for being unnecessary as Goa's existing international airport at Dabolim can be expanded.
They also say that an airport being built in Maharashtra's Sindhudurg district, which will be just 100 km from Mopa airport, may also hurt the Goa airport's business.