The Kerala High court recently stayed the proposed and highly hyped-up Sabarimala air port project!

Sabarimala temple, Kerala

Sabarimala shrine, Kerala.

The Kerala High Court in July 2020 took the right direction and stayed the state government’s directive to the Kottayam district collector to acquire the specified land with the Cheruvally Estate for the proposed  and highly hyped-up Sabarimala airport. The areas close to the famous Sabarimala temple are environmentally sensitive and prone to ecological and geomorphological disaster. The state of Kerala is already facing nature's fury by way of dangerous flooding on account of  poor  forest land management, illegal occupation of ghat lands by certain Christian groups, deforestation, etc. If the Sabarimala airport comes up, the environmental consequences will be severe and unthinkable. It involves uprooting of thousands of trees, flattening of vast stretch of land that may promote water-logging, flooding and landslides at lower levels on the hilly terrain.The poor water absorption of the soil will cause havoc in that area.
Proposed Sabarimala airport.

Among the famous Hindu shrines  of India,  the Sabarimala temple, located on the picturesque Western Ghats in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district, is a popular one. Reported to have attracted roughly 50 million devotees  every season, this  unique temple built in a remote place is dedicated to lord Ayyappa or Sasatha and can be accessed only by ghat road on a rough hilly  terrain. That almost very day about 70000 to  75000 people visit this holy shrine in December month alone will tell you about the importance of this old temple and the divinity attached to it. The peak annual pilgrim season is November and December and lots of devotees  from across  India, in particular, from the southern states, after observing certain  ''vratham'' (fasting, daily puja, etc) as per temple convention/protocol, undertake the strenuous pilgrimage to this holy way of hiking barefoot on the hilly terrain. Since lots of  middle aged and elderly people participate in this pilgrimage and further there has been an  increase in the number of pilgrims in the past few years, a section of  devotees wanted the state government to have an airport built on the ghat. Their contention is two fold, it will reduce heavy crowds and help the elderly people visit the shrine during the pilgrim season without having to use the rough trail and the other one is it will reduce the travel time. 

After considerable debate in the state assembly  in February 2017, the Kerala government gave in-principle approval to construct the airport and the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) was entrusted with a feasibility study. Louis Berger Consulting Private Limited, was to prepare the detailed project report. The proposed greenfield airport  in Manimala of Kottayam district will cover a large spread of  over 2,263 acres (9.16 km2) of land at Cheruvally Estate in Manimala panchayath, Kanjirappally Taluk.  It is  on the way to the Sabarimala temple, 136 km from state capital Thiruvanathapuram and 113 km from Kochi. The Hindu reported (14 June, 2020) that the government had decided to initiate steps to acquire land  from the private estate in the Kottayam-Pathanamthitta border, close to (2.5 km)  the Theni-Kottarakara National Highway, near  Erumeli town. The project had to get  mandatory clearance from the  Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), soil survey and other surveys from the Central government, New Delhi.

site of proposed Sabarimala  airport, Kerala

In the first week of July, 2020, the High Court had stayed the state government’s proposal  to acquire 2,263.13 acres of land with the Cheruvally Estate for the proposed Sabarimala airport. The court posted the case on July 21.The court issued the order on the petition filed by Ayana Charitable Trust, Tiruvalla, challenging the order.  One of reasons cited was the state government headed by a Communist  party was proceeding with the project without  conducting  social impact study.       


The Cheruvally Estate,,

The site for the proposed  Sabarimala airport is an Estate;  it used to be a rubber plantation  initially owned by Harrison Malayalam  plantations. Later  the RPG Goenka group got the control and  ran the plantation for some period.  Presently, it is under the Gospel for Asia, a Christian missionary organization under Believers' Church. The proposed site is a disputed one. In 2017,  case had been filed in 2017 regarding the  ownership  before the High Court of Kerala claiming that the Estate was government land.  However, a 2018 High Court order affirmed the church's ownership of the Estate. In 2013, a govt. committee headed by one M.G. Rajamanikam said the  Marrison  Malayalam 's acquisition of land is illegal, The state government's attempt to take over the land was struck down by the court. Presently, the dispute over the ownership is before a civil court and remains unresolved. 

Sabarimalai Ayyappa Seva Samajam is highly critical of the  Cheruvally Estate purportedly owned by the Christian group. It observed,'' It’s illegal to claim that Believers Church had purchased from Harrison Malayalam company the Cheruvally Estate which was supposed to be taken over by the government following   the termination of lease agreement with Harrison Malayalam. Since the high court has already ordered the government to take over the said land, it would be illegal and wrong on  the part of the government to pay compensation to someone who claims ownership of the estate.'' ............ (}