Kerala government has decided to give an in-principle nod to the proposed airport near Sabarimala Temple, but kept mum on the site of the project, apparently because of the fears that it might trigger another controversy. 

 

In a statement after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan informed that the government gave an in-principle permission to a green field airport for Sabarimala pilgrims. Now, the temple, which is visited by three-crore pilgrims a year, can only be accessed by road. The airport would reduce the traffic woes during the pilgrim season. The government also entrusted the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation to study the project. 
 

Related: Tiny Kerala to have its fifth airport, two airstrips!
 

Interestingly, the press note kept the location of the proposed airport a secret. In a meeting with Union Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on  16 November 2016, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had proposed the airport at Erumeli in Pathanamthitta. The CM also informed the Union Minister that the state had found suitable land for the airport near the pilgrim centre. 

 

It was clear that the state government was eyeing the 2,263-acre Cheruvally Estate, which is the possession of Believers Church. The Church, under the Gospel for Asia headed by KP Yohannan, took over the possession of the land from Harrisons Malayalam Ltd. in 2005, a deal which is deemed illegal as the lease period had already expired. The estate was occupied by the Harrisons even after the expiry of the lease period and had no right to hand it over to another party.  Special Officer MG Rajamanickam who looked into the land dealings of Harrisons Malayalam had recommended over 5,000 acres, including Cheruvally Estate, should be taken back. The church had approached the High Court against the move. 
 

Related: It's ₹ 25,000 cr scam! BJP cries foul over Sabarimala Airport project
 

When the Chief Minister announced the plan to build an airport near Sabarimala, BJP former state president had come out alleging that the government was trying to purchase Cheruvally Estate, instead of taking it back from the 'illegal possession' of KP Yohannan. 

 

The BJP is not against the airport project. But the move is to help private estate owners to sell the land illegally in their possession to the government and to get legal validity to their claim, Muraleedharan stated.  Once Cheruvally Estate is purchased or acquired by the government from the Harrisons, the company would get legal control of other plantations of the erstwhile British owners, estimated to be worth ₹ 25,000 crore, he added. 

 

The BJP leader, in a pre-emptive strike against the government, had warned against making the Believers Church a shareholder in the airport in return for handing over the land for the project. "Once the present occupant, the Believers Church, is made the shareholders of the proposed airport, it would give legal status to their illegal possession. The CPM is trying to gift thousands of acres to a private company under cover of an airport near the Sabarimala Temple pilgrim centre," Muraleedharan had alleged.