Parandur Airport: What will this Rs 30,000-crore project mean for the environment?

More than 36,000 trees to be felled. Many water bodies to face destruction. What are the long-term ecological effects of Parandur Airport?

A ride on the dusty roads near the vast agricultural lands of Parandur and surrounding villages, and a stroll along the Ekanapuram Kadapan Thangal, one of the water bodies used for irrigation, makes one thing clear. The project site of the proposed Chennai Greenfield Airport, which encompasses more than 10 lakes and smaller water bodies, is rich in biodiversity. So, any construction activity here can have a long-lasting ecological impact.

In the proposed Parandur project site, an area of 5,369 acres (2172.73 Hectares) has been earmarked for the development of the Chennai Greenfield Airport. Moreover, more than 36,000 trees will be felled to make way for the project.

In the third and last part of the three-part series on the Chennai Greenfield Airport, we examine the environmental ramifications of the project.

This is how the the land usage is distributed as per revenue records:

  • 2548.17 Acres (1031.21 Hectares) — Agriculture Land (Irrigated) — 47.46%
  • 1425.15 Acres (576.74 Hectares) —  Water Bodies (Irrigation Tanks)  — 26.54%         
  • 877.76 Acres (355.22 Hectares)   — Agriculture Land (Dry Land) — 16.35%         
  • 427.49 Acres (173.00 Hectares)   — Government/Poramboke Land   — 7.96%          
  • 73.14 Acres (29.60 Hectares)       —  Built-up Area (Road)    — 1.36%          
  • 17.19 Acres (6.96 Hectares)         —  Built-up Area (Village)      — 0.32%           

Read more: Chennai’s new airport: On-ground realities differ from what’s on paper


How will the biodiversity be affected

parandur airport
Vast agricultural lands and many water bodies will be wiped for the construction of the new airport. Pic: Lokeshwaran ES.

According to State of India’s Birds report, around 130 species of birds have been reported from the Parandur region and nearby water bodies. Of these, 28 are migratory bird species, while two are in the ‘vulnerable’ list and five are in the ‘near threatened’ list.

Some of the migratory birds spotted here include the Garganey, Northern Pintail, Wood sandpiper, Western Marsh harrier and Booted warbler.

Environmentalists and civic activists point out the adverse effect the project can have on the environment and ecology of the area, and the community that has been living here for decades.

“It’s not just the people who will be affected. We also need to take into account that the 10+ lakes here are cascading lakes, interlinked to each other. All the lakes have slopes which connect them not only on the surface but also underneath. One of the streams passes through the area that connects the Palar River and Kosasthalaiyar River. In the project, there was a proposal to divert it, but will this be perfect?” asks Dayanand Krishnan, GIS Expert and civic activist.

Depletion of ground water table

Diverting or filling up the water bodies will also affect the surrounding area’s groundwater table. Considering the region is prone to extreme weather conditions, heavy rains like the ones in 2015, can flood the area once the project is implemented. This is because rainwater needs to flow along cascading lakes and through the stream.

The authorities need to engage experts to conduct research on the hydrology of the area — how water flows on the surface and how recharge of groundwater takes place in Parandur and surrounding villages. Without examining these aspects of the environment, no one can implement these projects. Even in the future, Chennai and nearby towns will need a source of drinking, where these kinds of places can be used. 

“We need to preserve these eco-sensitive zones as this area has abundant water sources and fertile lands, which are used for farming. Farming is the livelihood of these people, where they are largely dependent on nature for their sustenance,” adds Dayanand.

Farming is not the only means of livelihood. When we ask Kathiresan, a villager from Ekanapuram about the water bodies around the village, he responds: “Ekanapuram is surrounded by three lakes namely Kali Eri, Vayal Eri and Kadapa Eri, which are lifelines for us.”

Apart from using the water for irrigation, the water bodies are a source of food and livelihood as many villagers are engaged in inland fishing.

“We get different types of fish here — veeraal, kandai and jelabi are abundant in these lakes. We catch these, cook and eat them and some we sell in the market,” adds Kathiresan.

Climate change perspectives

“In this project, there is no information or research on climate change perspectives like carbon emission, even though the Supreme Court said that ‘the right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change is a fundamental right,” says Vetriselvan, environmental activist with Poovulagin Nanbargal, who has been working closely with villagers on this issue.


Read more: Taking flight: Does Chennai need a second airport and at what cost?


Many studies have repeatedly pointed out the devastating effect unplanned development and indiscriminate construction can have on the environment. A CAG report mentions that the effects of climate change are often due to unplanned urbanisation. But governments rarely take cognisance.

“The lakes in the project site converted to dry land and this will be elevated to a certain height, to prevent waterlogging inside the airport premises during monsoons. But there are high chances of the surrounding areas getting flooded as the water will have nowhere to go. It takes centuries for the formation of natural rivers, streams and lakes; with this kind of project those will be destroyed easily,” adds Vetriselvan.  

Skewed development model

The development plan of the government is aimed at urbanising areas within a 100-km radius of Chennai through initiatives such as greenfield airports, SIPCOT, satellite towns and city expansion projects. Albeit, Chennai heavily relies on the surrounding districts of Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu, which serve as buffers protecting its ecology and environment.

“But if we urbanise these areas as well to such an extent, then will it be sustainable development? Will Chennai survive? We have all been affected by heatwaves already; it is only going to get worse. Chennai’s water needs are satisfied by reservoirs in these districts and they are similar to the Cauvery delta region, which is considered the ‘rice bowl’ for North Tamil Nadu,” says Vetriselvan.

As the ambitious Parandur Airport project takes shape, the people in the villages here stare at a bleak future, while experts warn of long-lasting environmental impact.

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