Maharashtra government’s ambitious Navi Mumbai airport plan will have to counter a new challenge -- bird threat -- to see its take-off.
An environment ministry’s wildlife specialist committee on Wednesday refused to approve the airport -- envisaged to handle around 40 million passengers a day by 2030 -- on the ground of its proximity to Karnala, the only bird sanctuary in Western Ghats.
The project proponent City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) of Maharashtra wanted approval for the airport saying there was no bird threat to the airport as the bird sanctuary was around 10 kms away.
They also claimed that the slow speed to the aircrafts while landing and take-off will not have any impact on the birds.
The local ecologists and Maharashtra chief wildlife warden differed.
Mumbai based ecologist Gebi Goenka said impact of the airport on birds was not limited to Karnala. “The airport is surrounded on three sides by bird habitats and the question is about safety of the passengers also,” he told HT. “The airport plan has been approved without any bird study, a gross violation”.
The corporation had got environment clearance from the ministry two years ago without revealing that a 12.11 sq km bird sanctuary was within 10 kms of the airport’s boundary. Any project within 10 kms of a protected area needs mandatory wildlife approval.
Geonka exposed CIDCO on this aspect forcing it to seek the wildlife approval now. The Maharashtra wildlife board headed by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had approved the project this January with some conditions.
The Maharashtra Chief Wildlife Warden admitted that the airport would have adverse impact on the birds but sought Centre’s approval considering national importance of the project.
When the proposal was considered by the standing committee of the national board for wildlife on Wednesday the members expressed their reservations over having an airport so close to a home to many migratory bird species and ecologically sound area.
Before taking a final call, the committee decided to conduct a site inspection to gauge the possible impact of the airport on birds and vice-versa. The environment ministry would ask the committee members to conduct inspection.
It is not for the first time that Navi Mumbai airport got stuck with the environment ministry. In 2010, the ministry had refused to give environment clearance to the project considering its impact on mangroves and creeks.
After a lot of brouhaha, comprise was announced by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh, then civil aviation minister Praful Patel and Maharashtra CM Chavan at Maharashtra Sadan.
Navi Mumbai airport is aimed to ease pressure on Mumbai interational airport and is scheduled to be built by 2017.