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India’s commercial hub to get second airport after ‘green’ nod

New Delhi, Nov 22 (IANS) India’s commercial and entertainment capital Mumbai will finally get its second airport, some 35 km from the existing one, with the environment ministry’s clearance Monday after all ‘green’ concerns were amicably addressed.

‘Formally, a clearance for the Navi Mumbai airport project has been given,’ Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told a press conference here with Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan by his side.

‘The provisions of building the airport can start today,’ said Ramesh, after giving his nod to the project, expected to cost around $1 billion in the first phase, $420 million in second, $350 million in the third, and $500 million in the fourth, spread over 18 years.

The Maharashtra government and the federal civil aviation ministry had been at odds with the environment ministry over the delay in green clearance for the airport project, that green activists said has been proposed in an ecologically fragile area.

The environment ministry felt the construction of an airport at the proposed site will lead to destruction of a mangrove forest, necessitate diversion of two rivers — Ulwe and Gadhi — and require blasting of a 90-metre-high hill that stood in the path of the proposed runway.

According to Ramesh, a major compromise has now been reached between his ministry, the City and Industrial Development Corp of Maharashtra (CIDCO) and the civil aviation ministry.

‘In the last couple of months, there has been lot of discussion between the Maharashtra government, the ministry of civil aviation and the environment ministry. We have bargained, we have negotiated and we have compromised,’ Ramesh said.

‘All of us have compromised as it has become inevitable. I am sure the result is an environmentally safe and ecologically sound, energy efficient international airport at Mumbai,’ Ramesh added.

Thanking the environment ministry, Civil Aviation Minister Patel said: ‘It is a very important project not only for Mumbai but for the economy of Maharashtra, economy of the country and for the growth of civil aviation sector in the country.’

Ramesh said as opposed to 161 hectares of mangroves in the project area today, there will be a four-fold increase to 678 hectares on the completion of the airport. This apart, while Gadhi river would not be diverted, the course of Ulwe would need to be changed.

‘The 90-metre-high hill has to be removed. On that we had to make a compromise, I don’t mind admitting. Otherwise, the approach to the runway would not have been smooth. On this, we have had to give in completely.’

He said his ministry had imposed 32 conditions for clearance and that both the union aviation ministry and the state agency CIDCO were on board to expedite the issues. ‘I want to thank the Maharashtra chief minister and the civil aviation minister for that.’

Chief Minister Chavan, who took over the reins of the state recently, said some forest clearances were now required, but that would not pose any problem. ‘Relocation of some 3,000 families will also be done at a fast pace,’ he said, looking visibly pleased.

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 between the state-run Airports Authority of India and the state agency CIDCO.

The project is to come up some 35 km from the existing Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai — and 20 km from the city’s outer periphery – 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 aim is that the airport would have a handling capacity of 40 million passengers by 2030.

The existing airport handled around 25.6 million passengers last year against a capacity of 25 million — which is being enhanced under the public-private initiative.

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