Green Field Airport: The irony behind the name and the plight of Pakyong's residents
Green Field airport or Pakyong airport which is the only airport of Sikkim built at a cost of Rs. 605 crores, spread over 201 acres of land is regarded as an engineering marvel for its soil reinforcement and slope stabilization techniques with an almost 80m high reinforcement wall is still a nightmarish story to Pakyong residents.
Recently, after 18 long months, airline services from the airport was resumed after tackling visibility problems faced by the flights during landing and takeoff process. However, this hasn't discouraged affected locals from showing their disappointment with the establishment of the airport.
The airport was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 as the 100th airport of India intending to provide an easier mode of transportation to those who wish to travel to and fro from Sikkim.
Pakyong, a village situated 33 km away from the capital Gangtok, where more than 60% of the residents are dependent on agriculture as their main source of income reports that more than 160 households lost their homes and agricultural lands and had to move out of their ancestral lands due to the GFA's construction.
SC spoke to several of these affected residents. One reported that his house had developed cracks since it was at the base of the airport boundary wall due to which his family had to leave their home and shift to another area. The resident mentioned that the enquiry committee of the airport's authority assured that there won't be any problems but on the other hand government had sent an order asking them to move.
Despite resuming flights, the problems of the locals have not yet been resolved since most of the concerned houses are yet to be compensated, following which the locals had filled case at the high court and after 25 hearing total of 35 houses were compensated on different percentages.
Wangdi Bhutia, another resident whose house was damaged said that due to the water connection of the airport, the area is facing landslides issues and agricultural land has been completely damaged. Plus, he hasn't been compensated. "I have not received any kind of compensation and submitted letters to Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) as well as District Collector (DC) but the department didn't take action".
Another resident said that while constructing the airport his house was damaged due to which he had to rebuild it. He informed that none of the action is being taken yet even not from Area MLA and that many have shifted to Damlakha and Naya Busty.
"At first when Pakyong airport was being established I was very happy as it was a step toward the development of our village, but now when I look at it I feel like it has destructed the beauty of the land," adds another. "The road conditions have become worse than before, its hard to bear the cloud-like dust in the winter and marshy like lands during the rainy season".
"The land had fertile soil before the construction of the airport and was an area with many houses and paddy fields", says Sangay Bhutia, a Pakyong resident. "When people handed over their lands in the hope of development, they didn't have an idea of how construction would take place." Soon, water scarcity issues, something which Dikling area hadn't witnessed before came to light.
"Though the government has sanctioned an amount for the construction of a water tank for the area, the problem is from where the water supply should reach the water tank. Earlier landslide issues were never there but now it's taking place everywhere. Roads, walls and people houses have been damaged due to which people are facing difficulties every day".
All this for development but at what cost? The residents of the Pakyong seem to be a far worse condition than before with issues of water scarcity, bad road conditions in the era of modern technologies and advancements. Is Pakyong really moving toward development or progressing backwards?