Indian Airport Set To Expand Into Elephant Sanctuary

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Authorities in India are taking steps towards the expansion of Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport. The expansion will see the airport take up parts of the Shivalik Reserve, an elephant sanctuary home to over 2,000 elephants. Many are advocating against the move, saying it could risk more wildlife loss.

The government is looking to expand Dehradun Airport. Photo: Arjun Sarup via Wikimedia Commons

Why expand?

Dehradun Airport is one of India’s fastest-growing airports, seeing a double-digit rise in passenger numbers in recent years. This rise in traffic has prompted the government to expand its operations, which can currently only handle 150 passengers at peak-hour capacity. The airport apron also requires an expansion since it can currently only handle a small number of aircraft, restricting flight schedules.

Dehradun Airport
Passenger numbers have increased drastically in the last few years, topping over 1.2 million last year. Photo: Trinidade via Wikimedia Commons

Nearly all major Indian airlines operate flights to Dehradun airport, which is located in the state of Uttrakhand, at the foothills of the Himalayas. The city is popular for leisure and religious destinations, attracting passengers from around the country. Currently, IndiGo is the largest operator from the airport, with Air India and SpiceJet also flying a handful of routes.

The expansion would see an extension of runway length (accommodating larger aircraft), a 42,000sqm new terminal building, and potential international operations. The government hopes to quickly complete the expansion, with plans for the new terminal to open as soon as early 2022.

Environmental impact

Dehradun Airport is located next to the Shivalik Reserve and large tracts of forest land. The current controversy comes just weeks after protests around the decision to cut down nearly 10,000 trees in nearby forests to build the airport, according to the Indian Express. While the government asked the authorities to find a new piece of land for its expansion, the alternative may not be much better.

This week, the Uttrakhand State Wildlife Board decided to “denotify” the neighboring Shivalik Reserve, effectively opening it up to development, according to Yahoo News. As mentioned, the reserve is home to over 2,000 elephants and a variety of biodiversity. The decision has caused anger among many activists, with many saying the expansion could affect elephant populations.

It’s currently unclear how much of the Reserve will need to be used for the airport expansion, which is estimated to require as much as 84 hectares. The government has defended its decision in the past, saying that forest land is essential to building up the airport. However, the impact on the elephant population could be very significant.

Not the first airport to face resistance

Airports have a notably high environmental impact, both in terms of the land they occupy and the pollution they attract. This makes projects such as airport expansions quite tricky, with many globally against the idea. London Heathrow faced protests last year after it revealed plans for a third runway, which will impact local communities.

Silhouette landing heathrow
Airport expansions have faced significant opposition in recent years. Photo: Getty Images

The next few weeks will offer more details about how much of the Shivalik Reserve would be impacted by the new airport. The balance between more air services and environmental impact is a tough one, and one which airports globally are struggling with.

What do you think about the government’s decision? Should airports expand at the cost of the environment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 


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