Cochin International Airport (CIAL), near Kochi, Kerala was one among the six to pick up the prestigious “Champions of the Earth” award with the likes of PM Narendra Modi and French president Emmanuel Marcon on September 26.
The “Champions of the Earth” is the highest environmental honour awarded by the United Nations. Kerala’s Cochin airport was named change maker in the entrepreneurial vision category for being the world’s first fully solar-powered airport.
But the UN seems to have erred while awarding ‘Champions of the Earth’ to Cochin airport. It has either been misled to believe that Cochin airport is green or it hasn't done its homework properly. Neither of it speaks well of the organization.
True, CIAL got the award for Entrepreneurial Vision for being the world’s first fully solar-powered airport but what at what cost? The solar panels touted as green only conceals the messed up environment that the airport is sitting on.
Ironically, the citation on the UN website reads: “Cochin is showing the world that our ever-expanding network of global movement doesn't have to harm the environment. As the pace of society continues to increase, the world's first fully solar-powered airport is proof positive that green business is good business.”
However, this is only half-truth and does not portray the complete picture that existence of the airport is a constant threat to the lives of people living around the airport.
The cost of damage to the environment is several times high than the benefits of the fully solar-powered airport.
Kerala state AAP convenor C R Neelakandan draws an analogy to the portrayal of Cochin airport as green. “It’s like saying a rapist is good because he does not smoke or drink. Not drinking or smoking does not justify the actions of a rapist. So is the case with Cochin airport."
“Since the time of its construction, around 1000s of acres of paddy fields have been destroyed and the Chengal Creek (a tributary of the river Periyar) has been diverted to build runways,” he says.
Neelakandan says the diversion of the creek caused flooding in the neighbouring areas for three days in 2013 when the shutters of Edamalyar dam were opened. In 2018, the flooding occurred when shutters of all the dams on river Periyar were opened.
Neelakandan says the cost of rehabilitation and compensation for the damage done by the airport is borne by the state government.
Sebastian Vadakumcherry, ward member of the Sreemoolanagaram panchayat says green award to Cochin airport is amusing.
“How can Cochin airport get the award when they have obstructed the natural waterway of a creek and the solar panels sit on the diverted path which has been causing problems. They have hijacked the natural waterway and now have painted a false picture of themselves,” Vadakumcherry says.
1300 acres of CIAL property is spread across parts of four panchayats: Kanjoor, Nedumbassery, Sreemoolanagaram and Chengamanad. In 2013 and 2018, low lying areas of these panchayats were flooded because of the diversion of the natural course of the Chengal creek.
After heavy rains in August this year, the Chengal creek reclaimed its natural course, the wall at one side of the airport came crashing down and the airport was inundated. There was immense damage to houses and agricultural crop in the surrounding areas.
The airport had to be shut down for several weeks and it suffered losses of around Rs 220 crores.
Activists M K Lenin and Manoj Kumar in Sreemoolanagaram say that people had objected to the solar panels being put up on the diverted creek in 2013.
“The response of CIAL was that the property belongs to them and they will do as they please,” says Kumar.
Kallyam colony, which is adjacent to the solar panels, was inundated and all the crops were destroyed.
Kutty Thankapan, 60 and her grandson Unni Kuttan, 21, who were evacuated during the floods say they lost everything. So did others.
CIAL, which is a public-private partnership, has a history of damaging the environment.
A study shows that 1300 acres of fertile paddy land was acquired for the airport. Besides, 5000 trees were felled and those possessing land in the direct path of the runway were prohibited from planting trees.
Cochin Airport is the perfect example of arrogance of globalisation that does not care for environment or people.