Monday, February 8, 2010

Mopa, neighboring villagers oppose proposed Mopa international airport

The Mopa Vimantall Piditt Xetkari Samiti strongly oppose the nefarious land acquisition being forced by the State against uninformed and helpless farmers and residents of our villages in the name of Mopa International Airport.

More than 100 lakh sqmts of land belonging to the villagers from Varkhand, Casarvanem, Chandel, Ugvem, Amerem, Mopa and Poraskadem is planned to be acquired for the proposed Mopa International Airport and its approach road. The statements made in a government report & published in local newspaper claiming that there is absolutely no adverse environmental, social or economic impact due to the proposed airport forms the basis of this massive delusion. The report also suggests that there are no permanent settlements in the entire area and that people will not be affected by the acquisition. This is a complete fabrication and shows lack of sincerity in the preparation of the airport proposal.

Contrary to the data portrayed in the official reports, more than 15,000 people are directly dependent on the agricultural produce generated from the orchards, forests, grazing lands and fields within and around the said plateau. A rough estimate of the number of cashew trees that will be lost due to the airport construction is 40 lakhs, which amounts to a turnover of rupees 100 crores annually, at 250 rupees per tree. There are also large numbers of betel nut, jackfruit, mango and coconut trees which the villagers subsist upon. The people of this area have made efficient and sustainable use of the land for growing fruit bearing trees in mixed cultivation, with minimum interference with the natural forest, for centuries.

In addition to those directly affected, thousands more of the residents of Pernem taluka are indirectly dependent on this plateau for water, soil and fodder, which are generated naturally on the plateau. The importance of conserving and protecting the plateau cannot be overstated in the context of water security. This gigantic aquifer supplies water through numerous visible and underground springs, which meet the drinking water and irrigation needs of a large section of the population of the taluka. Indeed, the ecological balance of the taluka of Pernem is so closely intertwined with our aims and objectives, that all the residents of Pernem, whether farmers or not, must join hands with us.

There are hundreds of permanent houses in settlements within the land proposed to be acquired, some more than 250 years old, which will be demolished once acquisition takes place. However government reports as quoted by the newspaper states that there are no permanent houses within the acquisition area. It is difficult to understand that hundreds of houses having electricity, water and house numbers, schools and community centers, and even grand irrigation projects, potable water projects and other amenities supplied by the government are overlooked while deciding the feasibility of the site for the proposed airport.

The Ministry of Environment & Forests , Govt of India in their submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has said that “Eradicating poverty is the first and overriding priority”, but in this case 15,000 people will be forced into poverty directly and thousands of others will be affected indirectly. The proximity of the survival of our species to the preservation of ecological balance is well demonstrated by our newly discovered realizations about global warming. Our Government therefore acknowledges and recognizes the need to increase forest cover, but must convert words into action by protecting the crores of trees around Mopa Airport from the death row.

In any event, the demand for this airport has been fueled solely due to speculation in the scarce land of our State by politicians from all parts of the State, as well as from other parts of the country, in connivance with large builders and developers. We invite any interested person to check the land sale records of the past 15 years for Pernem taluka in order to arrive at their independent conclusions. We have also observed how the present MP from North Goa, as well as the present CM, have reacted when our petitions opposing the airport and signed by more than 500 residents were served on them on 17/7/2009. While the MP immediately demanded in the Lok Sabha to start the processes for the airport project, the CM went a step further and immediately declared section 6 of the Land Acquisition Act. These acts show how this issue is predetermined as far as the self-serving politicians are concerned, and that the politicians are not at all interested in the development of Goa, but only to act as brokers for the sale of land, or collect graft from builders and developers.

The pre-requisite for any greenfield international airport is that it must be a hub for an international airline. Richer and wiser nations are extremely cautious while proposing new airports and, before deciding on development of a greenfield international airport, enter an understanding with at least one international airline to use the new airport as their hub. Speculation in land is also recognized by all as the primary cause for faulty decisions in airport planning and numerous criteria and guidelines are used to ensure that a greenfield airport is economically viable. On the contrary, our State is blindly rushing towards a major economic blunder, that will not only destroy Goa's already beleaguered economy, but will also cause social and environmental destruction in Pernem taluka of an unprecedented scale.

We, the villagers of Varkhand, Casarvanem, Chandel, Ugvem, Amerem, Mopa and Poraskadem therefore condemn the ill-conceived proposal for the construction of Mopa Airport. We vow to oppose this attempt to convert tens of thousands of Goan farmers from content and self-sufficient citizens to landless refugees. We shall protect our lands, our ancient Gods and our unique way of life from this and every other threat, and for this we are prepared to take every necessary step.

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