Vijayan, Chennithala spar over proposed Sabarimala airport

Thiruvananthapuram, July 29 (IANS) The two top political personalities in Kerala — Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala –, are engaged in a pitched battle over numerous issues for the past several months. The latest issue on which they are taking on one another is the much awaited and much delayed Sabarimala airport.

On Tuesday the two had clashed over this, when Chennithala slammed Vijayan for engaging the US-based consultancy agency Louis Berger and wasting over Rs 4 crore in consultancy charges to them, as the Kerala government had not even identified the land for the airport.

Vijayan hit back at Chennithala in the evening and blamed the Congress and Chennithala for playing spoilsport in building an airport at Sabarimala.

On Wednesday, Chennithala went hammer and tongs at Vijayan. In a statement issued here, he said Vijayan after being caught red handed is now trying to wriggle out of the consultancy contract issue.

“It was the Congress-led UDF, which first mooted the Sabarimala airport. Everyone knows who is against infrastructure projects as starting from the now hugely profitable Kochi airport, the CPI-M all along has been opposing any major project. They did the same when Kannur airport was being built, likewise when the Vizhinjam port project was being planned. The Smart City Kochi project is another one, which they opposed tooth and nail. People know everything,” said Chennithala.

“What we have raised is the manner in which the Vijayan government appointed the consultant to the Sabarimala project. They were entrusted to do all the preliminary clearances and sanctions, but strangely all these years, with not even the land identified for the airport, what did the consultants do. What we point out is the corruption in the name of consultancy and the special officer appointed in his report has said the same. Vijayan has to come clean on this ‘corrupt’ consultancy,” added Chennithala and demanded a probe into this shady deal.

It was in June this year, after dilly dallying for long, that the Vijayan government had appointed a committee of bureaucrats to identify a suitable piece of land for this project. The committee had zeroed in on the 2,263 acre Cheruvally rubber estate in Kottayam district, as the place for the proposed Sabarimala airport.

This estate is owned by the Thiruvalla headquartered Believers Church. For long this has been a contentious issue over the title of the estate, as the state government has all along contested that this land originally belongs to the government.

There has been a demand for an airport to cater to the Sabarimala pilgrims and during the previous Oommen Chandy government (2011-16), a proposal by a private player to build an airport at Aranmula, in Pathanamthitta district got entangled in various issues at the local level. After the Vijayan government assumed office in 2016, it revoked the earlier sanction given to the Aranmula airport and the search for another suitable piece of land in the same district started.