Trinamool Congress leader Sushmita Dev on Wednesday alleged that the Assam government cleared large swathes of tea plantations on the pretext of the construction of an airport in the Cachar district.
The Rajya Sabha MP cited a letter from the Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia that stated that the ministry had not received any proposal for a greenfield airport in the district.
A greenfield airport is one that is constructed from scratch at a new location.
Dev had written to Scindia on May 24, asking whether the civil aviation ministry had sanctioned any proposal to construct an international airport in Cachar. She had also asked him to state the timeline for completion of the project, if it had been sanctioned.
“Imagine ripping through the tea plantation and evicting those helpless workers in Dolu [tea estate] with 200 excavators,” Dev wrote on Twitter.
Scindia’s letter to the Trinamool Congress MP was the second occasion on which the Centre denied having cleared any airport project at Silchar, the headquarters of the Cachar district.
In response to a Right to Information query, the ministry had said on May 31, that it had not received any proposal for a greenfield airport in the city. The RTI application had been filed by a Cachar resident named Rahul Roy.
Amit Kumar Jha, the civil aviation ministry’s chief public information officer, said that the government has granted in-principle approval to 21 greenfield airports across the country. However, Cachar was not one of those locations.
On May 12, Cachar district authorities had started the process to acquire over 5,733 acres of land for construction of the airport even though the project had not been sanctioned, The Hindu reported.
Authorities uprooted about 30 lakh tea bushes for the purpose, according to The Times of India. At the time, the administration had also deployed a large number of security personnel and imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the area, prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons.
On May 29, the state Cabinet had decided to provide Rs 1 lakh each to 1,263 families of tea garden workers “as a goodwill gesture for their cooperation in the development of the greenfield airport at Silchar”.
To oppose the action of the authorities, the Doloo Tea Estate Save Coordination Committee has called for a protest on June 15.