Decision on Navi Mumbai airport next month, say ministers

New Delhi, Oct 26 (Calcutta Tube) A final decision on the controversial international airport in Navi Mumbai will be taken at the meeting of an expert group Nov 9-10, with substantial progress on addressing environmental concerns, two federal ministers said Tuesday.

The comments came after a meeting between Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, both of whom said some compromises had been made by both sides to take the project forward, while addressing environmental concerns.

The two ministers said the environment ministry’s 13-member Expert Appraisal Committee, set up to examine all the issue, will meet here Nov 9-10 to take note of the changes proposed in the airport project plan and a final decision will be communicated soon thereafter.

‘All I can say is he is Praful and I am hopeful,’ Ramesh told reporters in a lighter vein with Civil Aviation Minister Patel by his side. ‘I can say we have made substantial progress. We hope for some positive development,’ Patel added.

The environment ministry has been of the view that the construction of an airport at the proposed site in Navi Mumbai, some 20 km from the main city, will lead to destruction of a mangrove forest and diversion of two small rivers.

The ministry also objected to the project on the ground that it would lead to the blasting of an 80-metre-high hill which falls in the path of the runway.

‘The mangrove issue has been solved so has Gadhi river issue as it will not be diverted. But the mountain has to be blasted, since there is a need for a second runway. The only issue that remains is the diversion of Ulwe river,’ Ramesh said.

‘The government of Maharashtra and the Ministry of Civil Aviation have been sensitive to our concerns,’ he said, adding: ‘Our concerns have been met substantially, compromises have been made and both the sides have demonstrated great amount of flexibility.’

The compromise was reached after the City and Industrial Development Corp of Maharashtra submitted a revised proposal to the expert panel in which the distance between the two runways was reduced by 300 metres to ensure the two small rivers are not diverted.

‘I am happy that we had a very constructive meeting with the environment minister. The issue of environment is very important to us and we have taken pro-active steps,’ Patel told reporters.

‘We have made a lot of progress ever since the project was conceived till now, and I am hopeful the expert appraisal committee, which will meet on November 9 and 10, will take a final and constructive view on the issue.’

Planned as a public-private partnership, the project is proposed with 74 percent equity with the private players and the remaining 26 percent divided equally betwen the state run Airports Authority of India and the City and Industrial Development Corp of Maharashtra.

The project, proposed at a distance of some 35 km from the existing Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, was chosen as the area is expected to absorb the future growth in population, business and commercial activity of the region.

Around 1,140 hectares of land has already been earmarked for it, officials said. It is expected to handle 10 million passengers in its first operational year, doubling to 20 million in eight years. The ultimate aim is the airport’s handling capacity of 40 million.

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