Violent protests by farmers at Andal near Durgapur yesterday has once again put a big question mark on whether the almost completed airport will be able to meet its fifth deadline for commencement of flight operation on 14th April 2014.
Over 100 farmers whose plots have been earmarked for acquisition to shift electricity towers near the runway of the Andal airport allegedly manhandled the project promoter’s officials carrying out a land survey and detained them for four hours yesterday.
Around 9.30am yesterday, farmers pumping water out of their paddy fields in Andal’s Patshaora village spotted the BAPL officials taking pictures of the land and asked them why they were doing so.
The farmers started protesting when the officials told them they were surveying the land identified for acquisition.
“Some of them pushed us around. We tried to escape but they dragged us to a temple and detained us there for four hours,” an official said.
Police and the pradhan of the Trinamool-run Icchapur gram panchayat, Ujjal Mandal, arrived at the spot around 1.30pm and rescued the officials. Mandal assured the farmers that their land would not be acquired forcibly.
The farmers accused Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd (BAPL), which is promoting the Rs 10,000-crore Airport City project on 1,818 acres, of stepping on their land “illegally” and “forcibly”.
The attack comes a little over a month after the Singapore government-owned Changi Airports International, a stakeholder in BAPL, requested chief minister Mamata Banerjee to help remove impediments in shifting the six transmission towers near the runway.
BAPL requires around 70 acres in Andal and Laodoha to shift the High Tension power transmission cables of DVC and WBSETCL passing through its 2800 metres runway. The HT cables were erected by the Power Grid Corporation Limited and the work for the first unit was completed on 30 March 2010 to help connecting Damodar Valley Corporation’s Durgapur Steel Thermal Power Plant in Andal with the National Grid. The erection of HT cables for the unit number 2 was completed on 28 December 2010.
BAPL is willing to purchase the land directly from the owners but a section of villagers is reluctant to give up their land alleging that the private company was more interested in real estate than setting up the airport. Here it must be noted that BAPL is selling land inside the proposed Aerotropolis at hefty prices of 4 to 5 lakhs per kottah (720 sq. ft) to individual buyers.
A BAPL official said if the company did not get the land to shift the transmission towers, it would consider taking the power lines underground.
“But it will escalate the project cost and take much more time. However, the matter is under discussion. We will apply for the final Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) approval after resolving the issue,” the official said. DGCA meanwhile has refused to give clearance for regular flight services as the high-tension power cables cutting the runway couldn’t be removed as yet.
On 1 October this year, the SDM, Durgapur held a closed door meeting with the land officials, block administration officials, panchayats of the respective Laudoha and Andal blocks and police to pave the way for further acquisition of land from the farmers. The required survey work for the purpose began on 3 October, which faced stiff resistance by the farmers at Pathsaora village in Laudoha today and at Dakshinkhanda on Tuesday.