Not far from the urban frenzy of Navi Mumbai lies Waghivli, a serene cluster of small houses that overlooks farmland and fishing areas. There is nothing remarkable about this village of 500 residents except that their houses are bang in the middle of the site on which Mumbai’s second international is planned.
And, beneath the serenity, there bubbles anger and discontent.
The clearance of Navi Mumbai airport, which may create two lakh jobs once it’s ready, made many Mumbaiites happy but residents of Waghivli and 3,000 other families in surrounding villages feel it spells doom for their way of life, culture and land holdings.
Construction of the airport may still be a long way away but the handling of the project has created great anxiety.
“We are not against the airport, but how would you feel if you lost your house as well as your income in one fell swoop,” said Sandeep Mundkar (26), a fisherman whose family has resided at Waghivli for generations.
Mundkar’s six-acre plot and a pond in which he cultivates fish are going to give way for the mangrove park that the Ministry of Environment and Forests has said must be in place before construction can begin.
What heightens the anguish of people like him is that City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), the nodal agency for the airport, has still not informed them of the rehabilitation package or where they will be shifted.
Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister, said: “Rehabilitation is an issue. We are drafting the terms of resettling the project-affected people effectively so that they are satisfied.”
CIDCO has already acquired 1,600 hectares for the project, but needs another 443 hectares by shifting residents like Mundkar from 10 hamlets by 2014.
CIDCO claimed that the people displaced by the project would get land, financial assistance, vocational training for jobs and skilled and unskilled job quotas at the airport.
On paper, the rehabilitation process looks well charted, but for those who stand to lose their businesses and homes, it is gut wrenching. Many villagers blame CIDCO for not making the rehabilitation policy clear and of cheating them of their land.
“We don’t even know where we will be shifted or how much compensation we will get. It’s been a year since any CIDCO official came to talk to us,” said Ganesh Mundkar, a farmer from Waghivli.
CIDCO’s previous attempts at rehabilitation do not inspire confidence among the villagers. For instance, CIDCO started a vocational school at Uran to train residents for jobs that would be available once the airport opened. However, the centre now lies shut.
“The centre was 20 km away from the villages. Since villagers were not interested in travelling that distance every day, the centre was closed,” said Mahendra Patil, sarpanch of Pargaon, another village likely to be affected by the airport.
The villagers have now decided to form a committee to fight for their demands and ensure the terms of rehabilitation are satisfactory. “The airport will no doubt bring development to this area. However, it will also deprive us of what we built over generations. We wont let go of our land until we get a fair deal from the government,” said Kavi Tarekar, former sarpanch (headman) of Pargaon.
Sachin Kamble, 34, technician with an MNC, Pargaon village
‘Can’t live on compensation alone’
Soft-spoken and erudite, Sachin Kamble (34) is not your typical fire-spewing activist. But talk about the airport planned at Navi Mumbai and he is livid over the “unnecessary” celebrations over its clearance.
“The new airport may cater to 60 million people, but what everyone forgets is that it will uproot nearly 30,000 people from their homes,” said Kamble, a technician with a multinational corporation in Mumbai.
Kamble is one of the few graduates in the village of Pargaon, which is likely to be displaced because of the airport. He said he understands the importance of development in villages, but is dejected at the way villagers were treated by the administration.
“For how long can people who have lost their sources of income live on compensation?” Kamble said.
He rejected the state assurance that villagers would be trained for jobs on the airport. “The airport is likely to start functioning by 2014. They should have started training schools a long time ago, but this has not been done,” Kamble said.
Kavi Tarekar, 36, former sarpanch, Pargaon village
‘Villagers may react violently’
Kavi Tarekar (36) was just a boy when the police gunned down seven people in the neighbouring village of Jasai in 1981 during a protest against land acquisition.
Nineteen years later, Tarekar, a former sarpanch (headman) of Pargaon, feared that similar incidents would occur over the construction of the Navi Mumbai airport.
“No one likes violence, but I fear that is how people would vent their anguish. The government is not keen to hear what they have to say,” said Tarekar.
Tarekar’s family is among the 3,000 likely to lose their houses and land, which will be used for construction of the airport.
Tarekar claimed officials have not explained how they will be compensated. “The previous City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) managing director, GS Gill, told us that we would be shifted but did not say where,” said Tarekar.
He echoed the feeling that many villagers have: “CIDCO is taking us for a ride.”
The villagers want CIDCO to consult them while it is drafting the terms of rehabilitation. “If that doesn’t happen, incidents like the one at Jasai could be repeated,” Tarekar said