A delayed landing

The Navi Mumbai airport project is finally poised to take off. But government's work is not yet done.

Mumbai has long been in urgent need of a second airport. The existing one is in the middle of the city, highly congested and witnesses the most delays among all global airports. Two years hence, landing in Mumbai will be messy, with the existing airspace insufficient to meet the growing traffic and more landings. It was 27 years ago that a committee under J.R.D. Tata advocated a second airport for the country's business capital. The former civil aviation minister, Praful Patel, had begun pitching for the Navi Mumbai airport in UPA 1. Interestingly, two-thirds of the public land required for the project was already acquired by Cidco, the state government agency executing the new airport. But Patel's efforts were stalled during UPA 2, with Jairam Ramesh holding the environment portfolio. After a protracted battle between the ministries, the project was finally cleared by the environment ministry's expert appraisal committee in November 2010. But land issues gained prominence in the interim, with project affected persons (PAPs) raising their demands. In the last three years, Cidco could not manage to acquire the balance one-third public land.

The state government's decisions on Monday finally seem to have convinced the 5,000-odd PAPs to come on board and accept a substantially sweetened deal. Clearly, what has won them over, besides 22.5 per cent of the developed land and alternative land that is three times their existing residence and equity ownership in the new company, is the promise of employability prospects for their wards. Cidco plans to tie up with recruiters to impart vocational training to the young and provide them jobs.

But winning over the PAPs is just the beginning. The government both at the state and the Centre has to pursue the project with zeal since the first phase will take at least four to five years to be completed. More so, because the location of the project is peculiar and involves cutting a hillock, filling up marshy lands and even diverting a local river. For Mumbai, which aspires to be an international financial centre, robust physical infrastructure is critical. Be it about travel within the city or outside it, Mumbai leaves a lot to be desired. It takes two hours to fly from Delhi to Mumbai and at least an hour to drive down from the airport to the city's heart in south Mumbai. The Navi Mumbai airport is a job only half done.

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