Land acquisition cloud on Manohar Parrikar

Manohar Parrikar
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s home state, Goa, is seething with resentment at their former chief minister’s initiative to obtain for the defence ministry 150 acres of priceless land in Betul, Goa.

Parrikar wants the land for shifting India’s two major defence exhibitions to Goa — Defexpo (land and naval systems), and Aero India (aerospace). On July 30, Business Standard broke the story that the defence ministry had decided to shift Defexpo 2016 to Goa (“Defexpo 2016 moves to Goa from Delhi”). Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, Parrikar’s successor and a political acolyte, is willing to hand over the land. But a local NGO, United Goans Foundations (UGF), is leading the resistance against what its leaders allege is a thinly disguised land grab.

Goa newspaper Herald, which first reported these developments, has titled this: “Parrikar’s Battle of Betul”.

Documents obtained through Right to Information (RTI) applications, which Business Standard has accessed, show that Parrikar personally wrote to Parsekar on June 12, asking for “allotment of about 150 acres of land on the coastline which can accommodate 10,000 Ft (feet) Runway along the coast so that a permanent venue for conduct of Aero Show and Defexpo can be set up.”

Parsekar cleared this in quick time. A noting of July 8 shows that the government of Goa had already given the green light to the defence ministry. The documents show that in meetings on July 15 and 24, Goa Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) granted “in principle” approval for allocating 150 acres in Quitol Industrial Estate to the defence ministry.

UGF chief Ashish Kamat says: “The decision to hold these exhibitions in Goa came as a shock. Land is precious in our tiny state, and there was already resentment over the acquisition of over 23 lakh (2.3 million) square metres of land from the Naqueri-Betul panchayat for the GIDC, promising jobs for locals. No jobs have materialised, nor will any arise from these exhibitions which are held for one week each year.”

Kamat says locals fear that the initial acquisition of 600,000 acres is only the thin end of the wedge, which will be followed by further demands for land. This is because the Quitol Industrial Estate land proposed to be handed to the defence ministry allows a maximum runway length of 1.5 km, just half of the required 3 km. “Either they will acquire more land, or this becomes the world’s first runway with a U-turn in the middle,” quips Kamat.

The jibe about a U-turn runway is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Parrikar, who many Goans disparage as “U-turn minister”. Parrikar had publicly promised, when he was chief minister three years ago, that no more Goa land would be handed over to the Centre.

On November 17, a signed analysis in the Herald pointed out that “3,000 metres of runway length with a runway strip width of 300 metres (as per ICAO standards) is 900,000 square metres (225 acres) and the land required for taxiways, apron, massive exhibition halls, hangars, terminal buildings, control tower, space for other structures like fuel tanks, fuel dumps, emergency fire service and infrastructure would be many times over the requested area.”

The article goes on: “It looks like Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has totally lost his bearings or a land grab scam with a huge hidden agenda is in transition.” The UGF (a politically non-partisan body) has also criticised the bypassing of an “environment impact assessment” for a project on the ecologically sensitive coastline. Nor has there been any “social impact assessment” relating to this project.

The land acquired for Quitol Industrial Area was earlier community land, which, in Goa, is governed under the “Code of Communidades, 1961”. Locals are bitterly resentful at the lack of jobs and benefits that has accrued from the GIDC so far.

Kamat also points out if this land is acquired and an airfield built, Goa will then have three major airports: Dabolim, the naval air base that has doubled as a civil airport; Mopa, the controversial airport that is proposed; and Quitol, which will be used for a week, every two years.

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