Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and civil aviation minister Praful Patel came together on Monday in New Delhi to announce the clearance. As part of the grand bargain, the environment ministry dropped its green objections on several fronts while, Cidco changed its plans to meet the environmental norms halfway. The ministry has put 32 conditions on the building of the project, which include shifting out of all the non-essential elements of the airport away from the mangroves. As per the agreement among stakeholders, one of the two rivers—Ulwe, flowing through the airport site, will be diverted to accommodate the airport runways. The other, Gadhi, will remain untouched though one of its channels will be filled up. The fallout for the two rivers was a major issue with the environment ministry which cited the havoc caused by the diversion of Mithi river to insist that the course of the two streams should not be changed. Ramesh said he was 85% satisfied that the environmental concerns had been met. The environment ministry has allowed Cidco to cut 98 hectares of mangroves on the location but the project developers will have to plant 615 hectares of mangroves as biodiversity parks as compensation. The environment ministry also backed off on the levelling of a 90-metre high hill. Ironically, the climbdown was facilitated by rampant mining on the hill that had brought down its ecological significance considerably. The minutes of the meeting of the expert appraisal committee show that though Jairam Ramesh was initially bent upon sticking to the law, the ministry softened its position for the sake of the airport project. The environment ministry has turned many of its concerns into conditions that Cidco has to meet. The requirements include preparing a new environmental impact assessment report and a detailed traffic management plan, setting up of a highlevel advisory and monitoring committee reporting to the airport management authority and a review of impacts on biodiversity along with the Bombay Natural History Society. “I have also asked the state government to set up a high-level advisory and monitoring committee to oversee the implementation of the environmental conditionalities at various stages,’’ Ramesh said. Chavan said that the state government would expedite rehabilitation of the 3,000 families along with securing of the land for the site still in private hands.
For an airport slated to be born in the 2010s, Navi Mumbai airport doesn’t really pack a punch in terms of capacity. Going by current projections, the city will actually need a third airport by 2030 as the second airport does not present long-term solutions to the city’s ever-increasing air traffic demands. In 2015, when it will be ready for use, Navi Mumbai airport will have a passenger handling capacity of only 10 million/year. This is less than Bangalore (13 million/year) and Hyderabad (12 million/year) airports started with when they began operations a few years ago.Navi Mumbai airport will reach its saturate at 59 million passengers/year in 2030. For Mumbai airport, the saturation point is 40 million in 2015.