Second Mumbai airport takes off

Paving the way for the construction of a second international airport in Mumbai, the Environment Ministry today finally cleared the long-pending infrastructure project at the proposed site in Navi Mumbai which it had been opposing for several months citing ecological reasons.

While announcing the clearance — at a joint press conference with Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel — Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that the decision was a "major, major compromise" for his ministry.

"The biggest compromise is the Navi Mumbai site itself," Ramesh said. He said the Navi Mumbai location had become a fait accompli in view of the fact that there was no viable alternative site available in and around Mumbai and that a majority of the land at the present proposed site was already in the possession of project developer CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra) and the state government.

"Having accepted the site as a fait accompli, the Environment Ministry has acted in good faith to ensure that environmental impacts of the project are minimised. We are happy to note that 80-85 per cent of the concerns raised by us are being addressed by the changes that have been made in the project design and the steps that will be taken by CIDCO on our suggestions," he said.

"The construction of the Navi Mumbai airport can technically start from today," Ramesh said.

Today's clearance brings to an end a year-and-a-half long tug-of-war between the Environment Ministry on one side and other stakeholders like CIDCO, Maharashtra government and the Civil Aviation Ministry on the other, that had put a question mark on this crucial infrastructure project that is being designed to address the problem of a rapidly increasing demand on Mumbai's extremely congested airspace.

The environmental approval, however, is laced with as many as 32 conditions. Among them are a commitment to plant mangroves in 615 hectares around the airport in lieu of the destruction of existing 98 hectares of mangroves at the site, rehabilitation of about 3000 families, and an assurance that no further property development would be taken up inside the proposed aeronautial airport zone area in the future.

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