Goa's contentious second airport sees fresh protests. Here's why
Goa’s second International Airport has had a contentious history.
Farmers in Goa’s northernmost taluka of Pernem have risen against losing their lands this time for a road connecting the upcoming International airport at Mopa to the national highway. This could be the latest chapter in a protracted struggle the farmers have raged against the acquisition of their lands - first for the airport and now for the connecting road.
On Friday, some 200-odd farmers were bundled into police buses and placed under arrest after they blocked the path of government surveyors who were on their way to demarcate the land for a brand new approach road. The protesters refused to budge and not to part with even an inch more of the land that they say has sustained them.
“The chief minister is saying that he is trying to make us understand. They are saying we should understand? What should we understand? We have even given them an alternative alignment that will involve less land. More than 500 farmers are going to lose their homes for the road,” Prashant Shirodkar, a land-losing farmer, said.
“If the CM really wants to understand us then he should come and have a look at our fields and cashews. Villagers from this area have already sacrificed land for the Tillari canal, the Sports City, Ayush Hospital, Ravindra Bhavan, and now they say they are bringing casinos too,” Shirodkar added.
Goa’s second International Airport, which is being built in the state’s northern corner and covering nearly 100-lakh square metres of land that once comprised villages of Mopa, Uguem, Dhadachivada, Poroscodem and Dhargal, has had a contentious history. First proposed in the late 90s, the project ran into opposition from politicians, hoteliers and taxi operators from South Goa who opposed the airport saying it was too far North and going ahead with the project would harm the development of South Goa.
The land acquisition procedure that had nearly lapsed was taken forward only in 2012 after the BJP government came to power and after written assurances from the central government that the existing Dabolim airport, which doubles up as a Naval base, will continue to operate as a civilian airport even after the new airport is inaugurated.
But the land losing farmers were not convinced. Within a radius of ten kilometres, farmers in the once rural Pernem taluka have had to part with 9-lakh square metre of land, mainly comprising cashew, mango and other fruit orchards, for a Sports City for which land was acquired but never materialised, the tiller irrigation canal that is lying in a state of disrepair and other projects like an Ayush Hospital, an auditorium, etc.
“How much more land should we part with? Is it always us who have to pay the price of development? Is there no other area that you can choose to ‘develop’? Let other parts of Goa also see the benefits of ‘development’. It’s not like we are the only farmers,” Bharat Bagkar, who had led the villagers collective to oppose the acquisition, said.
Villagers are also upset that more land than what is necessary for an airport is being acquired while the rest is being ‘given away’ to GMR Infrastructure which won the bid to build and operate the airport for ‘city-side’ development.
Nearly 10-lakh square metres has been given to the airport concessionaire that will likely be used to build a gaming zone besides other hospitality ventures.
“We understand that an airport can be built with 30-40 lakh square metres of land but here the government has acquired 1-crore square metres,” Shirodkar said.
“We were paid a compensation of ₹30-40 per square metre which was later hiked to 120 per square metre but the value of the land in the vicinity has gone up and is now being sold in the thousands. Why should we face this injustice,” Bagkar said.
The Goa government, which only recently had to relent in the face of ferocious opposition from farmers unwilling to part with their lands for an IIT in another similarly rural area in the state, has had talks with the farmers which have remained inconclusive.
“I have already met them twice and listened to their demands. I have told them that the government is committed to go out of the way to ensure compensation for their land,” Sawant told reporters late on Friday.
Till date, the farmers have yet to relent vowing to fight till their last breath.