Open Letter: Global Solidarity with Protests against Karad Airport Expansion

Stay Grounded Network sends open letter to Prime Minister of India urging to stop Karad Airport expansion – and expressing solidarity with affected farmers

On September 19, the Stay Grounded Network sent out an open letter to the Prime Minister of India and representatives of Maharashtra State on behalf of its more than 130 global member organisations in support of the affected farmers and citizens protesting against the expansion of Karad Airport with a sit-in since July 29th 2019.

For more than 50 days, the affected small-scale farmers have been protesting continuously day and night in front of the Satara Collector office, sacrificing their agricultural work and family responsibilities to stop the land acquisition for the planned project. The farmers reported that during all these days of protest, Mrs. Shweta Singhal, Satara District Collector, did not show any attention to their concerns.

The letter urges the Prime Minister and the Satara Collector to meet the farmers’ demands and prioritize the safety and rural livelihoods over the development of non-viable infrastructure, that serves particular political interests, involves safety risks and is non-compliant with policy.

Find our blogpost about the protests here!

photo: Vinayak Shinde

 

Letter sent to the Prime Minister of India

Vienna, September 19th, 2019

The Honorable Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
The Honorable Shri Devendra Fadanvis, Chief Minister of Maharashtra State
Mr. Bhushan Gagarani, Principle Secretary, Maharashtra State
Divisional Officer Pune
Mrs. Shweta Singal, Collector Satara

Dear Prime Minister,
dear Chief Minister, dear Principle Secretary, dear Divisional Officer, dear Collector,

On behalf of the Stay Grounded Network, I am writing to raise our concerns about the planned environmental and socio-economic destruction by the local authorities of Maharashtra State and the Maharashtra Airport Development Company Limited – as a state owned company. We write this letter in support of all affected farmers and in support of the farmers and citizens protesting against the expansion of Karad Airport in Maharashtra State with their sit-in (Thiyya Aandola) since July 29th 2019 in front of Satara Collector Office.

I am the Co-founder of the Stay Grounded Network and its Campaigner. Stay Grounded represents more than 130 member organizations on all continents, working together to bring forward a just, environmentally sound transport system and to rapidly reduce air travel. Even more organizations, including large networks such as Friends of the Earth International, support our position paper. We have recently learned about the longstanding protest against the expansion project of an existing airstrip into a full-fledged airport next to the city of Karad and the ongoing sit-it.

Since 2011, farmers have voiced their opposition against the expansion. The latest sit-in protest started on July 29th and has been carried out since then continuously day and night in front of Satara Collector Office, with affected farmers determined to maintain their action until the government meets their demands and cancels the expansion. The farmers’ complaints were also submitted in detail to the local authorities (SDM Karad, Satara Collector and CMO office), but without their concerns being taken into account. We urge you to meet the farmers’ demands and prioritize the safety and rural livelihoods over the development of non-viable infrastructure, that serves particular political interests, involves safety risks and is non-compliant with policy, as described below.

We learned with great concern, that for the airport expansion 3,200 acres of fertile land are under threat. The farmers claim that the expansion will not help the development of the district, but on the contrary, will lead to their impoverishment; For the expansion, fertile farm-land cultivated with an irrigation-system will be acquired. Critical infrastructure for the irrigation system is located on this land. According to the farmers’ spokes-person, Vinayak Shinde, people from the villages Warunji, Kese, Munde, Padali, Gote and Supane have worked for more than 50 years to develop this irrigation scheme. We have been informed, that if the land acquisition is carried out it will be a huge loss for about 25,000 people who depend upon this agriculture.

A pre-feasibility report (see Government of Maharashtra Report No.2, 2017, p.61-62) raised concerns regarding commercial viability due to the close proximity (70km) to the operational Kolhapur airport. The Maharashtra Airport Development Company Limited even proposed to withdraw the project because of commercial non-viability.

The expansion project was proposed in 2011 by Former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan. According to the affected farmers, Chavan created political pressure on the local authorities for the expansion. We learned with increasing concern that local authorities are showing unnecessary urgency in land acquisition, giving the final notice of land acquisition without former notices. We have been informed that in 2016 local authorities took signatures of three members of a single family belonging to a party worker of Prithviraj Chavan out of 1,100 affected by the project. The farmers thus claim that the award of land acquisition was an illegal act of the local authority.

Karad Airport lies just two kilometers away from the city of Karad. We have been informed that, according to the Airports Authority of India, developments of airports should be at least 15 km away from a city. Farmers opposing the airport expansion are concerned that acquisition of irrigated farmland is prohibited by national resettlement and rehabilitation policy. The airport also lies closely to the Munde electricity station in Karad, which is the main station of electricity transfer from the Koyna hydroelectricity project. The tall electricity towers in the surrounding of the planned expansion pose a risk to air safety.

In addition to destroying local agriculture and rural livelihoods, the expansion of Karad Airport will accelerate climate breakdown through emissions from aircraft. Stay Grounded works to rapidly reduce aviation especially within Europe, which is responsible for 20 percent of global aviation emissions. But strengthening transport networks that are eco-friendly, sustainable and reliable is surely necessary in all regions.

The Stay Grounded Network thus reiterates its solidarity with the affected farmers and citizens protesting against Karad Airport expansion. We will keep following events closely and we urge you to prioritize the safety and livelihoods of your people over the development of damaging infrastructure. Please contact me if you would like to discuss these points further.

Most respectfully,

Mira Kapfinger
International Co-Founder and Coordinator
Stay Grounded Network