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After two decades of painful planning, Mumbai’s second airport is ready for takeoff

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PM Narendra Modi to lay foundation stone for the project Sunday. New airport likely to be completed by 2021, three years after existing airport gets saturated.

Mumbai: After 21 years of planning and delays, the foundation stone for Mumbai’s second international airport in Navi Mumbai is set to be laid Sunday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Authorities are reasonably confident that there will be no further delays, with the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government pushing for the project to be completed before the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in 2019. However, a more realistic estimate for the completion of the project is 2021.

The airport was first 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 feasibility, 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.

Why Mumbai needs a second airport

Mumbai’s existing Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport recently created a record of handling 980 flights in 24 hours, almost a flight every minute, to become the busiest single-runway airport in the world.

As per a report by Sydney-based Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation last year, the Mumbai airport had reached 94 per cent of its capacity, which is likely to saturate in 2018.

Mumbai’s air traffic soared to about 45.2 million passengers per year, signalling fast saturation.

Meanwhile, the Navi Mumbai airport project lay in limbo due to environment hurdles, land acquisition issues, and hiccups in the tendering process. Its cost surged over 200 per cent to about Rs 16,000 crore from Rs 4,766 crore in 2006-07.

Reasons for the turbulent ride

The location: The Navi Mumbai airport project has been marked with disagreements at all levels ever since it was conceived and formulated starting from its location.

To begin with, a committee of the Union Civil Aviation Ministry, in its first report in June 2000, had recommended Rewas-Mandwa, also located in the Raigad district, as the most appropriate location for Mumbai’s second airport. The Maharashtra government, then run by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, however, wrote to the Union government the same year proposing Navi Mumbai as a more apt location due to its developed infrastructure and proximity to Mumbai.

After much back and forth, the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), the government agency implementing the project on a public-private partnership model with GVK Infrastructure, even submitted a techno-feasibility report on the proposed airport at Navi Mumbai in September 2001, after which the Airports Authority of India questioned whether the interoperability of two airports—the existing Mumbai airport and the proposed Navi Mumbai airport—in the same airspace was feasible.

While the Union cabinet eventually gave an in-principle approval for Mumbai’s second airport to come up at Navi Mumbai in 2007, the location continued to be under question throughout the whole process of obtaining environment and wildlife clearances and acquiring land for the project. The environment ministry and environmental activists were insisting on studying alternate locations such as Rewas-Mandwa, Kalyan and Wada, while the ministry insisted that these suffered from severe locational and technical disadvantages.

Environment concerns: With the project involving amending the Coastal Regulation Zone notification, diverting a river, blasting a hill and mowing down several hectares of mangroves, the Union Environment and Forests Ministry was very cautious in its appraisal of the project. It took nine years, two under the current BJP-led government, several meetings, and even an open war of words between former civil aviation minister Praful Patel and former environment minister Jairam Ramesh before the Navi Mumbai airport could get all green clearances in place.

“By August 2010, it was clear that, for various technical and non-technical reasons, the Navi Mumbai location has become a fait accompli. With the constraints operating at the existing airport, the urgent need for a second airport for Mumbai, a public infrastructure, is obvious. Hence instead of going back to the drawing board and adding at least 2-3 years more to the assessment/land acquisition process, I decided to accept the fait accompli in good faith,” Ramesh said in a press release while granting an environment clearance in November 2010.

He further went on to list a set of 32 specific conditions and safeguards that CIDCO needed to put in place to mitigate some of the damage to the environment. Subsequently, the project received the first phase of the forest and wildlife clearance in 2013, and the second stage in 2016.

Land acquisition: Acquiring land for the airport, the core area of which is proposed to be spread over 1,160 hectares across 12 villages, was highly time-consuming, with a majority of villagers staunchly opposing the project. CIDCO ultimately acquired the 671 hectares of private land it required for the project by working out a unique compensation model, which has now come to serve as a precedent for most mega projects in Maharashtra.

The negotiations with landowners reached a breakthrough in 2013 when CIDCO offered them developed land measuring 22.5 per cent of their acquired land with additional floor space index, shares in the new company totalling two per cent of the equity, alternate land three times the size of their current residence, and job guarantees for the children affected by the project.

However, despite clinching a deal and getting a majority of the land owners on board, CIDCO was still ironing out minor crinkles till October last year.

The plan now

The 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.

As per officials from CIDCO, the first runway is likely to be built by 2019, and the second the following year. However, operationalising an airport is a time-consuming process involving several clearances, and is likely to happen only in 2021.

Pre-development work, involving flattening a hillock, reclaiming marsh land, and diverting a river to make way for the construction of the airport, is currently underway on the site.

After a long and uneasy tendering process, CIDCO last month eventually signed a concession agreement with GVK, which operates Mumbai’s existing airport, to develop and operate the Navi Mumbai airport as well, with an initial concession period of 30 years, extendable by 10 years.

When the first phase is ready, the Navi Mumbai airport will have a capacity of handling 10 million passengers a year. By 2030, the operator, GVK, is expected to boost the airport’s capacity to 60 million passengers per year.

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  1. The Government should still work on the Kalyan Airport plan wherein more passengers from Kalyan-Badlapur-Dombivili-Thane and other areas are benefited.
    It will futher reduce the burden on both Mumbai and Navi Mumbai airports as flight travel is the next mode of transport in coming years.

  2. For Bombay airport to have a single runway – actually, there is a second runway which is at an angle to it – is understandable, since few could have foreseen the explosive growth of civil aviation when it was built. However, Navi Mumbai airport should look at least fifty years to the future, also contemplate a situation where it might replace the existing airport altogether. There should have been a provision for a third parallel runway. See how much difficulty Heathrow is facing to add a runway. Stage One of one million passengers will reach saturation almost on day one. Stage Two should be set rolling at the earliest. The early completion of the trans harbour link is also vital to improve connectivity for the Navi Mumbai airport, a child of many prayers.

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