A proposed airport that matters in Goa’s two LS seats (Election Special)

Panaji, April 9: A proposed greenfield airport at a remote plateau in north Goa is expected to play a role in deciding the electoral fate of the two constituencies in Goa which go to the polls April 12.

The proposed airport, which has been a bone of contention and in the eye of a “land scam”, has evoked myriad reactions from political parties as well as individual politicians and has to some extent divided opinion on the issue on geographical lines.

While southern politicians have traditionally rejected the proposed Mopa airport and have insisted on continuing with the military-operated Dabolim international airport, their northern counterparts are backing the new airport with gusto, claiming the new facility will help develop the relatively backward Pernem-Dhargal belt, which borders Maharashtra.

The BJP as well as its north Goa candidate Shripad Naik, a former union minister of state for civil aviation, supports the airport project to the hilt.

“We need the airport for the future. Soon Dabolim will not be able to handle the air traffic which Goa attracts,” said Naik.

Naik’s claims are backed by the state government’s draft investment policy which envisions the Mopa airport as a passenger airport and a cargo hub.

After being notified by the union ministry for civil aviation as one of the many new greenfield airports, the state government in 2004 had identified 10 million sq metres of land at the Mopa plateau in north Goa for construction of an airport, in addition to the Dabolim international airport located in south Goa.

The land acquisition process was carried out in turns by both the Congress and the BJP governments.

But according to state Congress president John Fernandes, the airport is nothing but a land scam, in which unscrupulous politicians from both the Congress and the BJP were involved.

“Goa does not need a new airport. Mopa is not an airport; it is a land scam. If the Congress comes to power we will return all the land which has been acquired from tribals and farmers,” Fernandes told IANS Monday, queering the pitch as far as the airport debate is concerned.

For the Congress the emotive Mopa airport issue is a double-edged sword. If it backed the airport, the party stood to gain popularity in north Goa, while losing support in the South Goa constituency and vice versa.

Fernandes’ comments are expected to dent the chances of the party’s North Goa candidate Ravi Naik, who has been strategically keeping mum on the airport issue. But it would instead beef up chances of its South Goa candidate Aleixo Reginaldo, who has been vociferous in his opposition to the venture.

“I have always been against the Mopa airport. I will make sure it does not happen as a member of parliament”, has been Reginaldo’s constant refrain in his election campaign.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the third force in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, will find Fernandes’ claims of a land scam in the airport project a confirmation of what they have been claiming all this while.

According to AAP member Oscar Rebello, several politicians from both the mainstream parties had purchased land around the proposed airport site, located about 45 km north of Panaji. AAP has promised to reveal their names soon.

“This is nothing but a land scam. It’s not that we are against an airport or large infrastructural projects. But Goa does not need an airport that urgently. The recently upgraded airport will serve Goa’s need for several years to come,” Rebello claims.

“Most of the land in the surrounding area belong to politicians or their close supporters and the present government is keeping the proposal alive to keep land prices inflated and sell to unsuspecting buyers,” AAP’s draft manifesto reads.

“With the airport at Sindhudurg (a south Maharashtra district bordering Goa) being ready by year-end it does not even make Mopa financially viable,” it further says.

Mopa is approximately 80 km from Chipi, in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, where another greenfield airport is being built.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

IANS