Pakyong Airport, India

Construction of Pakyong Airport, at high altitude on a steep mountainside, was delayed by the challenging terrain and protests by residents demanding fair compensation for loss of their homes and farmland, which continued after inauguration of the project


Construction of Pakyong Airport, one of the highest in India at an altitude of 1,433 meters above sea level and perched 2 kilometres above Pakyong village, was scheduled for completion by December 2014.[1] But as early as January 2013 it was reported that the challenging terrain might delay the project. The pace of construction was also slowed down by residents living in the vicinity of the project expressing grievances over negligence. More than ten families complained that construction work had led to large cracks appearing in their houses and the monsoon had sent debris flowing downwards from the site, causing havoc and ruining vegetation. Yet construction firm Punj Lloyd informed the media that if the project progressed as planned it would be complete by 2014.[2] UK based geotechnical firm Maccaferri had been awarded the contract to carve the airport site out from the steeply sloped mountainside using ‘cut and fill’ techniques, moving earth from one place to another to create a level surface. One of the tallest reinforcement walls in the world, 80 meters high, was under construction to protect the airport from landslides.[1]

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Basic Data
NamePakyong Airport, India
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Ports and airport projects
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsPakyong Airport, the only airport in the state of Sikkim, was built for passenger flights and defence purposes. Levelling the site for construction works involved carving a stretch of land 2.5 kilometers in length out from the steep mountainside.[5] The foundation stone was laid in February 2009 by then Civil Aviation Minister, Praful Patel.[3] Initially the airport site covered 81 hectares.[1] During construction the land area increased to 400 hectares.[6] Pakyong Airport’s terminal can accommodate 100 passengers and the single runway is 1,700 meters in length.[14] Between 2008, when construction of Pakyong Airport began, and its inauguration in September 2018, the cost of the project escalated from USD 35.7 million to USD 85 million.

In January 2019, four months after opening, the airport, hailed as an ‘engineering marvel’ due to the seeming success of its construction on rugged terrain, at an altitude of 1,433 meters carved out of a steep mountainside, was reported to be on the brink of closure. Many flights had been cancelled due to poor weather and the airport lacked the requisite Instrumental Landing System to enable operations in such conditions. The airport had only been operational for 20 days in October and 15 days in November.[13]

Problems continued in December when lack of navigation equipment necessary for the low-visibility conditions meant SpiceJet flights from Calcutta were diverted to Bagdogra on 21 out of 31 days, from where passengers faced the prospect of a five-hour car journey to reach Sikkim. A traveller questioned why, with Pakyong shrouded in fog for much of the year, a proper navigation system had not been factored into airport plans. Officials expected continued diversion of flights with even small drops in visibility.[15] Furthermore, protracted suspension of flights was anticipated because a few months before Pakyong Airport opened the boundary wall built to protect it and particularly important for safe use of the runway had partially collapsed. On one side the wall was reduced to half its 80 meter height. Construction works to rebuild the boundary wall were being blocked by protesting landowners demanding compensation.[13]
Project Area (in hectares)400
Level of Investment (in USD)85,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population800 households [3]
Start Date05/01/2013
Company Names or State EnterprisesMaccaferri from United Kingdom - Awarded contract to carve out airport site from mountainside
Punj Lloyd from India - Construction of Pakyong Airport including boundary wall 80 meters in height
Airports Authority of India (AAI) from India
Geo Spar Infra from India - Construction work on western flank of Pakyong Airport
Relevant government actorsGovernment of India

Sikkim State Government
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersPakyong Airport Affected Families Committee
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Food insecurity (crop damage), Air pollution, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Soil erosion

Dusty atmosphere, air pollution and noise pollution caused by construction works

Reduced access to drinking water
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Accidents
OtherIllnesses caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
OtherDamage to houses (cracks) and destruction of houses caused by construction works
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.After Pakyong Airport became operational in September 2018 a number of residents impacted by construction were still protesting, blocking further work on the site and demanding fair compensation.
Sources and Materials

[3] Began Lepcha, Development Induced Displacement in Sikkim: A Study of Greenfield Airport Pakyong Teesta V Hydel Power Projects, Sikkim University, February 2018
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[7] School collapses near Pakyong Greenfield Airport, The Echo Of India, 9 April 2015
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[8] Affected families threaten to stir strong protest with black flag at Pakyong Airport, Voice of Sikkim, 11 November 2018
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[9] Sikkim: Pakyong Airport ready for operation; likely to be inaugurated on Nov 30, TNY thenortheasttoday, 2 November 2017
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[10] Locals step up protests ahead of Pakyong airport inauguration. Sikkim Express, 30 November 2017
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[11] Farmers who lost land for Sikkim airport begin agitation, opposition lends support, Hindustan Times, 13 November 2018
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[4] Airport Impasse : Affected families pitches their protest runway, Voice of Sikkim, 10 January 2015
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[1] Sikkim to get greenfield airport in 2014 12 September 2013,,
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[2] India’s greenfield Airport, a distant dream or unending trouble .., Sikkim News, 5 January 2013
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[5] Won’t Greenfield Airport be a fairy tale ?, Voice of Sikkim, 21 January 2015
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[6] Work on N-E's first greenfield airport comes to a halt, Business Standard, 30 January 2015
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[12] Airport Affected Families Serves 5 Days Ultimatum To Govt Over Property Compensation, Voice of Sikkim, 24 November 2018
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[13] State's Failure to Compensate Landowners Has Put Sikkim Airport on Brink of Closure. THE WIRE, 24 January 2019
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[15] Flying direct to Sikkim? Factor in a 5-hour drive from Bagdogra!, The Telegraph, 15 January 2019
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[14] Sikkim’s first airport at Pakyong is open for business, International AirportReview, 28 September 2018
[click to view]

Media Links

Sikkim: Families affected by Pakyong Airport block road leading to the newly-constructed airport, East Mojo, 24 November 2018
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Other Documents

Protest, January 2015 Families residing near Pakyong Airport construction site protest over damage to houses. Source: Voice of Sikkim
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Construction of Pakyong Airport Pakyong Airport is built into the mountainside 2 kilometers above Pakyong village. Source: Voice of Sikkim
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Affected families demand justice In January 2015 affected families halt construction of Pakyong Airport. Source: Voice of Sikkim
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Pakyong Airport affected families, November 2018 Source: Voice of Sikkim
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Protest blocks main gate of Pakyong Airport 24th November 2018, Pakyong Airport affected families block main gate and deliver ultimatum over compensation. Source: Voice of Sikkim
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Pakyong Airport inauguration Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Pakyong Airport on 24th September 2018. Credit: PTI
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Meta Information
ContributorRose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update30/04/2019