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Kalyan airport plan faces hurdles

Fields, brick kilns dot Kalyan site where state wants to build third airport, reports Lalatendu Mishra.

india Updated: Oct 31, 2006 01:44 IST

The state government wants to set up an airport at Kalyan, on what used to be a World War II airfield. But it's in for a rude shock.

The 1,680 acres of defence land are now home to paddy and vegetable fields planted by villagers. Amid the vast stretches of wild grass are brick kilns and areas used by local politicians to organise cricket tournaments.

The land is bordered on one side by Haji Malang Garh and other hills. Stretches of stone laid out over levelled land and patches of old concrete are the only signs that an airfield once existed there.

The British originally acquired the land from local villagers in 1939 at Rs 300 per acre to set up an airfield. Descendants of those villagers have now returned to the land and claim it as their own.

Today, the land commands a price of Rs 6 to Rs 10 lakh per acre depending upon how close the plot is to the main road.

Not surprisingly, the villagers absolutely refuse to part with the land, warning that they'll fight the government tooth and nail.

The locals who took over the land after Independence belong to Newali Gaon, 10 km from Kalyan station, and the adjoining villages.

"This is our land. The British had assured our forefathers that they would return it once they were done with it. But they simply packed up and left without fulfilling their promise.

So we reoccupied the land and painstakingly made it fit for agriculture," recalled Hari Janu (84), a tea stall owner, whose father was among those whose land the British acquired.

"I still remember gawking at the planes as a child. There were over 200 of them, all two-seaters. Usually, British officers came here for training before going off to fight."

Janu said the area was abuzz between 1939 and 1944. "On one side were the officers' quarters, where gora and kaala sahibs stayed. There were also the hangars and a boundary wall," he added.

The site's proximity to Kalyan station, a large railway junction in British times, seemed to be the main reason for setting up the airfield here.

Janu wasn't amused when told that the government was proposing an airport at the site. "We will not give up our land," he asserted.

"We may consider it only if the British return the original transaction was with them," added the geriatric Janu.

He recalled that villagers had a few years back thwarted a Defence Ministry proposal to build a housing colony for retired personnel at the site.

"Once the airfield ceased to exist, there was no question of the ministry claiming ownership of the land. We have court orders to support us," Janu claimed.

Email Lalatendu Mishra: Lalatendu.mishra@hindustantimes.com