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Islanders worried over opaque proceedings for Agatti airport expansion

AGATTI/KAVARATTI (Lakshadweep): The sides of a sleepy road, leading to a non-descript airport, the only one in the Lakshadweep islands, are filled with coconut trees, with white and red painted upto a quarter of their heights.

A comparatively active ocean on the Eastern side and a calm, bluish ocean on the Western side gives the road an out of the world charm.

The people on this tranquil stretch are either sitting idle or carrying on with their chores, but in a very relaxed manner that is so typical of an islander.

If the proposed airport expansion, not the limited expansion that has been on the cards for nearly a decade, but the massive one that popped up only after the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier last month, materialises, then this tranquil corner of Agatti Island will become a hub of hectic activity.

The islanders, with their usual friendly demeanour, welcome the airport expansion plan and are jubilant at the prospects of development attached to it.

But behind their friendly, welcoming faces, there lies a concern of them losing their lands without proper compensation.

“We wholeheartedly welcome the airport expansion and bringing in new tourism projects. But till date nobody has given us a clear picture. A team that had come here to study about it told us we will have to part with our lands, without saying how and when and what would be given as compensation,” Husnl Jamhar, who owns a private resort near Agatti airport, told PTI.

He said all those who have property on both sides of the airport are more than willing to part with their property for the expansion but they should get good compensation.

“They do not communicate anything. There was no public hearing. They have cut a lot of our coconut trees, without any notice and just pay us peanuts as compensation. Such an attitude does not work when it comes to taking our land,” Jamhar said.

Sheemabi, a woman who has been living in the area, the closest to the present airport, for the last 32 years, echoes the same sentiments as Jamhar.

“This is the only land I have and it was given to me by my father. Me and my family live from the revenue I get from the coconuts from my land and if I lose that land for nothing, then we will have to starve,” she said.

Abdul Rasheed, who runs a petty shop by the sides of the airport road, too welcomes the tourism projects and airport expansion.

“Airport expansion is very crucial for the development of our islands. If connectivity is better, more people will come, bringing more jobs and more revenue. But they will have to rehabilitate us to some other area. If we are not given a proper compensation and are not rehabilitated then the project will be a doom for us,” he said.

Agatti is one of the islands in Lakshadweep which has a sizeable area of ‘Bhandara Bhoomi’ (lands given on lease to islanders on lease prior to independence).

There was a controversy earlier under the present administration alleging that the administration tried to take the land from the possession of the islanders and tried to give it on lease to some companies for tourism operations.

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