In July 2018 that Maharashtra state government gave a major push to plans for a new airport in Purandar. The Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation (MADC) was appointed as the special planning authority, bestowed with all the powers of a Planning Authority for land acquisition on the area notified for the airport. MADC declared 2,832 hectares of land as a notified area to be acquired for the project, an area spread across seven villages: Pargaon, Ekhatpur, Munjvadi, Kumbharvalan, Vanpuri, Udachiwadi and Khanvadi. With notification of the land area the boundary of the proposed airport was confirmed and a copy of the plan made available to the public .
Since announcement of the airport project in 2016 the list of villages that would be affected showed some variation. But opposition to loss of land and livelihoods was vigorous and consistent. Farmers living in the area, worried that they would lose their fertile land, began submitting objections to the airport plans in September 2016 when the potential site was inspected for a second time. Airport planners had honed in on the Purandar Taluk after 12 years with no progress on plans for a new airport in Pune because of a lack of suitable land that could be acquired without opposition from farmers.
Administration attempts to placate affected people, with assurances of a favourable land acquisition model and joint meetings, failed to assure them that their livelihoods would not be snatched away and delegations of farmers began raising concerns . By 6th October, when Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis announced the airport in Purandar residents of seven villages had passed resolutions opposing the project and the following day 4,000 villagers gathered in Pargaon to protest. They said they would not give up “an inch of their land”. Over the last two years arid areas had become cultivable due to irrigation lines . The airport also threatens to disrupt the lives of pastoralists over a wide area who graze thousands of sheep, breeds which are resilient to dry conditions in the area. As with the farmers needing compensation for loss of land pastoralists would need compensation for loss of fodder . An MP pointed out that the area of land required for the project, 2,400 hectares is far larger than is taken up by major airports worldwide, such as Mumbai Airport with a land area about one-quarter of this size .
At the end of October, a meeting of 500 villagers resolved to mark Diwali with a ‘black gudi’ protest. Gudi, silk cloths garlanded with leaves and hoisted on sticks in front of their homes, would not be in the usual celebratory bright colours. Instead, gudi would be draped in total black as a message to the state government symbolizing their worries and unhappiness . The ground-level obstacle survey at Pargaon village was complete by the end of November but the following day a group of women dug up two pillars that they thought had been erected to identify land to be acquired .
On 10th November 2016, affected villagers attempted to block a land survey. They did not manage to stop a cavalcade of vehicles carrying officials and police that descended upon the villages, but many farmers and their families held a dharna, sit-in protest, in the blazing sun for an hour and a half and some farmers confronted the survey team shouting slogans and waving black flags. As many as 1,300 protesters were detained by the police until being released in the evening , The survey progressed amidst a heavy police presence and villagers were told to stay away or face arrest , A committee unifying resistance against the proposed airport under a single platform, Vimantal Virodhi Sangharsh Samarthak Sanghatan, was formed in December, with at least two representatives of each affected village. Together under this banner villagers decided to refuse to cooperate with the committee deliberating on land compensation packages and brought in a retired high-court judge to assist them .
As soon as the site in Purandar was proposed for the airport local wildlife experts raised concerns over the potential loss of wildlife habitats. Their surveys had found the area to be rich in fast-disappearing species, most notably wolves, foxes, jackals and hares, plus a rich variety of birds, reptiles and amphibians . The landscape of the area earmarked for the airport is grassland and agricultural land with human settlements. In 2017 Conservation India, a non- profit information portal, studied the possible loss of flora and fauna to the airport, revealing that an MADC statement about absence of wolves (specifically the Indian grey wolf, a Schedule 1 species given the highest level of protection) was misleading. A 2015 survey of the proposed airport site, discovered wolves and many residents and visitors had photographed them. Talk of constructing a ring road to the proposed airport also raised ecological concerns as this would open up land in the entire region between Pune city and the airport site for extensive urbanization .
In March 2017, villagers rejected a statement by MADC that houses would not be touched by land acquisition as a means to confuse and perplex them. A villager pointed out that 90 per cent of their village consists of farmers who have plots of land, without which they would be left without an alternative source of income . Distress over Purandar airport exacted the worst possible toll on one affected villager. In April a 77-year old a farmer from Pargaon village committed suicide by consuming pesticide. His family attributed his death to “severe mental stress” caused by recent developments over land acquisition for the airport. His nephew found newspaper clippings about the airport project in his shirt pocket .
Resistance to Purandar airport erupted again in January 2018 following defence ministry clearance of the project. Landowners from seven villages reiterated their insistence that they would not give up their land and said they would write to the President of India seeking his permission to end their lives in protest because they would be left with nothing . The president of the committee opposing the airport, Vimantal Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, said that the compensation being offered by the government for the land was a fraction of its market value, adding that claims by the minister of state for water resources and water conservation that the area of land the government was in possession of the 2,400 required for the airport, 1,300 hectares, were false, that the government was in possession of no more than 250 acres .
On 5th February 2018, about 2,000 people from the seven affected villagers held a four-hour protest meeting against the ongoing airport development plans. They demanded representations from the authorities which were not informing them about the project. They repeated warnings that they would resort to suicide rather than fall prey to plans which would snatch away their livelihoods . A sit-in protest outside the District Collectorate took place on 14th February, under tight police security. A letter saying villagers refused to give up their land was submitted. They questioned why their homes should be razed when air travel is a luxury mode of transport only used a 2 per cent of elites from Pune city . In May landowners decided against allowing government representatives to enter their villages and, concerned that money could be deposited in their accounts resulting in their land being claimed, they decided to deactivate accounts with nationalized banks .
At the end of July 2018, as the government declared the Special Planning Authority, women from all seven villages leading the “No Airport” pledge and agitation, mobilizing to form a special alert system to prevent any kind of government intervention regarding land acquisition. All the women in Ekhatpur alerted each other by cellphone if they saw a government car. Women also refused to discuss land rates or even availability of land in the area . On 6th August hundreds of landowners staged a ‘rasta roko’, blockading roads leading to their villages for four hours to protest against the airport project. Many cooked food while sitting in the roads, a symbolic action meaning that will be their situation if their land plots are taken away . Some farmers blocked the roads with bullock carts.
There was a major protest against land acquisition for Purandar Airport
on 10th June 2019, with farmers from all seven affected villages
participating. Some of the protesters burned a map of the airport site. Farmers
also protested over major road development going through their villages. The
farmers said that they would not give up an inch of their land for the
airport. In August 2019 1,555 people from the seven affected villages
submitted objection letters against land acquisition for Purandar Airport.
Under the provisions of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act 1996 it
was mandatory for MADC to seek objections from villagers affected by land
acquisition. Bappu Memane, the head of Pargav Mevani village, said:
submitted letters to the government stating that we do not want the airport to
be developed in our area. We have, instead, asked the government to give us
facilities required to do basic farming in the region. We do not want the airport
and want to continue farming here, which we have been doing for decades.”