Herald: How to kill an airport and tell the Goans they don’t need it
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How to kill an airport and tell the Goans they don’t need it

09 Sep 2018 06:44am IST
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09 Sep 2018 06:44am IST

Chicalim’s Deputy Sarpanch has done what no enemy nation would dream of, leave aside any patriotic Indian. He has launched a full scale attack on the highly sensitive Naval Airbase by excavating out real estate property for himself outside the secured walls of Dabolim Airbase that could bring down the wall any day and has even built a seven storey multi-dwelling unit inside the funnel zone that rises like a sore thumb in the path of naval fighter jets, surveillance aircrafts and scores of commercial flights landing at Dabolim Airport. And he is not alone. 

Since Mopa Airport has been bulldozed through by the current and previous BJP governments, there has been a systematic effort to endanger and kill the airport. The Mormugao Planning and Development Authority has allowed a dense population to come all around the airport and even wrongfully drawn the funnel zone. The current Chief Minister’s previous stint as Defence Minister was used well to compromise all possible security and safeguards to the approach zone to the airport and high rises have mushroomed practically everywhere sans permission from defence authorities. Result – make Dabolim Airport so unsafe that commercial airlines thumb down the existing airport in favour of the upcoming one at Mopa. Politics and greed have been effectively gnawing away Dabolim Airport. And strangely from those who benefit the most from the airport.

Sample this, Chicalim Panchayat which could gain from the airport in terms of employment and taxes has allowed hundreds of illegal houses to become concretised and mushroom around the airport and in time, the eastern fringes of the airport will not only resemble the approaches to Mumbai’s CST Airport but also pose a threat to approaching flights. Goa government’s GSIDC went ahead and forcibly built a grade separator on the controversial Survey No 8/1 which was halved to deny the airport its rightful parking space. The grade separator was never a part of Airport Authority of India’s expansion plans but after denotifying and snatching away half of the land acquired, it was forced upon to spoil Dabolim’s cityside expansion plans. Not a word was said by political champions of Dabolim Airport in the State.

But there is a murkier irony playing out. The man who Dabolim constituency has chosen twice as its MLA is the one who has used Dabolim’s mandate to push Mopa’s agenda. The victims (who are all also his own voters) would include hundreds of taxis – private and black & yellow ones, porters and airport staff who have family members working at the airport since generations. The leaders of their associations may be the local leader’s allies but have no clue after Mopa what of Dabolim. Interestingly there are swathes of land belonging to the local comunidade (owing allegiance to the local MLA) that could have been used for expansion of Dabolim Airport including for additional parking. The whole of Dabolim Airport area could have been developed on the lines of Delhi’s Aerocity. 

As NGT cleared the decks for cutting down of thousands of trees on the unwanted aquifer plateau of Mopa to develop a ‘greenfield airport’, there is a huge sense of déjà vu. The argument that Mopa shall be handling more passengers than Dabolim has been bunked as more passengers were handled in the last two years by Dabolim than what Mopa will be handling ten years from now. The theory that it takes longer for a tourist in the North to reach Dabolim Airport will prove wrong as the State in less than a year shall have a high-speed six-lane highway making a North Goa to Dabolim Airport journey less than thirty minutes – a normal by metro standards. The argument that Goa’s current airport does not have a parallel taxiway will soon be history as the same is nearing completion. Even the integrated terminal’s size would be enhanced as the old terminal is being knocked off and more parking bays are created. Who then needs another airport in Goa besides Dabolim?

Goa’s Mopa Airport saga is a classic love triangle of political corruption meets commercial greed meets people’s naiveté and how the first two lived happily ever after. From the very beginning, this wasn’t about whether Goa needs another airport or not. Rather it was about how to create a real estate goldmine in those remote parts of Goa which had no iron ore mines. The sign-off on this gold rush happened with the Governor’s assent on a Planning & Development Authority exclusively for the Mopa Region. What Goa should demand to know is that how the Mopa Region (once roamed by tigers and leopards till recently) was cunningly left out of Prof Madhav Gadgil led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report. There have been layers and layers of deception that have covered l'affaire Mopa Airport.

From the time when Goa’s second airport was proposed at Quitol (just opposite Leader of the Opposition Chandrakant ‘Babu’ Kavlekar’s house) by an expert committee in 1998 and the committee came back to be shocked that the area identified was being blasted for bauxite mining to the time when Goa government would override the observation of International Civil Aviation Organization that a second airport for Goa is not a viable option, this State has been witnessing a weird kind of hide and seek with its airports. While a chimaera Mopa which lies far away from civilisation is being promoted full steam, an operational Dabolim is put through all kinds of problems on a daily basis. Even the land that was acquired for crucial airport expansions is being denied access or encroached upon by the State government’s high handedness.

Goa is a great leveller. Ask an Airports Authority of India official at Dabolim Airport or the officials in the ranks and file of Indian Navy. As the Chicalim Dy Sarpanch showed the world, he went ahead dug up the earth to the extent that even State’s PWD Department’s water tank was threatened and the Indian Navy had to finally step out of its walls to protect a highly sensitive area only because the State administration teamed up with the local administration to allow this compromise with national security happen. 

So if you want to know how Dabolim was compromised for Mopa – it was the local MLAs in and around Dabolim Airport who teamed up with the State government to kill an existing world-class facility by constantly interfering in the business of Central government agencies running the airport and its domain. The idea of Mopa is as similar as Muhammad bin Tughluq experiment of shifting the Capital of India from Delhi to Daulatabad in the heart of India. Goa government knows well that it is staring at failure there and hence is allowing parallel development at Dabolim airport too. But the question isn’t about Dabolim or Mopa anymore. The question is why is the State wasting public money, borrowing money on one side for Mopa, enhancing capacity for Dabolim on the other and on the third side allowing greedy and dangerous developments to happen around Dabolim, the only operational airport. The question is why is the government allowing local agencies such as the Panchayat, the MPDA and other vested interest to slowly throttle Goa’s lone operational airport?

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