The Kerala cabinet on Wednesday  gave 'in-principle' approval for setting up a greenfield airport at Sabarimala to cater to lakhs of devotees who visit the famous Lord Ayyappa hill shrine every year.

The cabinet entrusted the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation to hold a study on the proposed airport, according to a statement of the Chief Minister issued here.  At present, the only way to reach the hill shrine is by road. 
The increase in number of pilgrims visiting the temple had gone up in recent years and the airport is the option to reduce traffic congestion during the November-January festival season, it said.

The CPI(M)-led LDF government had proposed the airport at Erumely near the hill shrine that would benefit Sabarimala pilgrims coming from across the country and also from abroad. Erumely is located about 45 km from the temple town in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district, which is around 100 km from Thiruvananthapuram.

Kerala was caught in a major controversy over the setting up of an airport at Aranmula in the private sector. The airport project proposal was opposed by the local people. Even the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the leading party in the ruling Left Democratic Front had opposed the Aranmula airport project, which had got all preliminary sanctions from the Centre and State Governments. The previous Oommen Chandy government had given the green signal for the Aranmula project, promising the State Government's participation.  

The proposal for the new airport was made soon after the Left Democratic Front government, with Pinarayi Vijayan as Chief Minister, came to power in May last. The proposed site is at  the 2263 acre Cheruvally estate in the Vandipariyar ranges in Idukki district.  It earlier belonged to Harrison Malayalam group, which has deep roots in Kerala's plantation sector. Currently, the ownership status  of the estate is now a point of legal dispute between the Government and the Believers’ Church headed by K.P. Yohannan. 

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