Mumbai: After missing several deadlines, the Maharashtra government is now hoping to complete the first phase of the much-delayed Navi Mumbai airport project in 2023.
The Rs 16,000-crore Navi Mumbai airport is touted to be one of the world’s largest greenfield airports with two parallel runways of 3,700 metres and full-length taxiways that are 1,550 metres apart. The first phase involves operationalising one of the two runways.
The concessionaire, the GVK Group-led Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), and the state government, however, don’t seem to be on the same page regarding the timelines for operationalising the airport.
A change in the management of the concessionaire, with the Adani Group taking a 74 per cent stake in MIAL, has further complicated the project.
In December last year, the GVK Group wrote to the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), the nodal agency for the Navi Mumbai airport project, saying the Covid-19 pandemic has severely cut air travel demand and that Mumbai will not need a second airport till 2025.
It also said the Navi Mumbai airport project will need to be redesigned as the pandemic would have an impact on cost, revenue and borrowing.
However, a senior official from the state urban development department told ThePrint that operationalising one runway is easily possible based on the current progress of the project.
“The current stage at which we are, despite the hurdles the project is facing, one runway should easily happen in two years. Pre-development works are almost complete and the site is clear,” he said.
When ThePrint contacted a GVK Group spokesperson, he said the company does not want to comment on the issue.
The Navi Mumbai airport, for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone in February 2018, has had a string of missed deadlines.
The former Devendra Fadnavis-led government wanted to operationalise one of the runways before the 2019 state assembly elections, a deadline that several officials in his government had said was too ambitious.
Officials implementing the project later revised the deadline to May 2020 and then to December 2020.
Lockdown, Adani takeover to cause delays
The most recent cause for a delay in the project was the Covid-necessitated lockdown, when work on the airport came to a standstill, followed by a financial strain on the concessionaire that prompted a change in its management.
CIDCO gave the contract to build the airport to the MIAL on a design, build, finance, operate and transfer model. MIAL has been operating the existing Mumbai airport, known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport.
GVK through MIAL signed the concession agreement with CIDCO in January 2018, just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the project.
The GVK Group was, however, under severe financial stress — downgraded by rating agencies and struggling to raise funds for the Navi Mumbai airport work.
In May last year, CIDCO even wrote to the GVK Group, asking it to demonstrate its financial ability to go ahead with the project and complete it within the state government’s deadline.
In August 2020, the Adani Group reached an agreement with GVK to acquire a 74 per cent stake in MIAL and also achieve financial closure of the Navi Mumbai airport so construction can begin.
The official from the state urban development department quoted above, however, said the change in management has created “procedural issues”.
“For example, financial closure hasn’t happened. It is a prerequisite. Change of management is a fait accompli for CIDCO we just have to accept it.”
He added: “The change will also need a bunch of central government clearances from authorities such as the Competition Commission of India and the Airports Authority of India.”
Pre-development work to finish by April
Officials from CIDCO as well as the state government said the pre-development work on the site of the Navi Mumbai airport at Ulwe is 98 per cent complete and the remaining work should be done by the end of April.
An official from CIDCO said, “We have completed most of the pre-development work, which includes hill cutting, diverting the Ulwe river, shifting of high-tension wires and so on.”
She added that the airport site has also been almost cleared and 99 per cent of the project-affected persons shifted to alternative accommodation.
The Navi Mumbai airport is proposed to be built on 1,160 hectares of land across ten villages where about 3,500 families live.
CIDCO started pre-development work on the land in 2017.
The airport was originally conceived in November 1997, with the central government identifying the need for a second airport for the metropolis.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation had constituted a committee to study the feasibility of the project, but it took nearly a decade for the plans to reach the drawing board.
By this time, the government had decided Navi Mumbai as its location, but it took another decade to reach a stage where construction can actually begin.