Turbulence over slums at Mumbai airport

  • Soubhik Mitra, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 16, 2016 23:54 IST
In 2007, slums occupied 147 acres of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) land. (HT File)

The city airport handled 41.7 million passengers in 2015-16 — a sharp rise from the less than 25 million passengers in 2006 — to become one of the busiest airports in the world. Along with the number of passengers, the amount of land occupied by slums, has also increased over this period.

In 2007, slums occupied 147 acres of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) land. Almost 10 years after this survey by the state, this number has increased to 308 acres.

Of the airport’s 2,007 acres, close to 60% is used for airfield infrastructure such as runways, taxiways and parking stands. One arm of the X-shaped terminal T2 is incomplete because the space where it was to come up is occupied by slums.

That’s not all. According to the Mumbai suburban collector’s office, surveys to identify slum dwellers eligible for tenements in a multi-storeyed housing complex have covered only 19% of the slum colonies near the airport. The government has set January 1, 2000, as the cut-off date for eligibility. “We have called for a meeting to decide the further course of action,” said Deependra Singh Khushwah, Mumbai suburban collector.

The government has now started another survey to identify slum dwellers, who need to be rehabilitated. The survey, which began in April 2015 on chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s order, would be the tenth such study, said local residents. “Every two months, a new set of officials ask us to submit different documents. We have submitted our documents at least four times,” said a resident of Bamanpada slums, requesting anonymity.

According to industry projections, the city airport may soon hit the saturation point in terms of passengers. A report by aviation think tank Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA India) last November projected by 2018-19, CSIA will be filled to capacity, with 48 million fliers a year.

The CAPA analysis — based on the existing terminal capacity, airfield capacity and projected air traffic growth in six metros – estimated that until last year, the city airport had consumed more than three-fourth of its capacity, the highest among metro airports in India, along with Chennai. Delhi, the country’s busiest airport, too, has utilised only 41% of its capacity.

“The primary problem with the airport slum rehabilitation project is the absence of political will. Why should it take 10 years to find out how many slum dwellers live on land around the airport,” asked Godfrey Pimenta, founder of Watchdog Foundation, a Sahar-based NGO.

Experts said it was time the Airports Authority of India (AAI), original owners of the land, stepped in. “The valuation of the encroached land is probably a few million dollars an acre. People living in these slums have built an eco-system that uses the land to its maximum potential,” said Debayan Sen, from aviation consultancy firm Landrum and Brown Worldwide Services.

He said the state government needs to provide lucrative forms of employment, along with alternative housing in nearby areas to get slum dwellers to budge. “It is expected to be a long process, but one that is needed to decongest the CSIA.”

Approximately 75,000 hutments from the Kurla-end of the airport were to be moved to the tenements built by a MIAL-appointed private developer in Kurla.

But most of the 20,000 tenements built so far are empty.

“Around 1,000 families displaced for construction of the Sahar elevated road and other road widening projects stay in the four towers,” said Nicholas Almeida, former municipal councilor from the neighbourhood.

Local activists said certain slum pockets have started growing vertically. At its current pace, the state might never finish counting the number of people who need to be shifted.

“The influx of migrants is on the rise. Touts have built two-storey houses and rented them out. If the survey is not completed quickly, it might never get over,” said Pimenta.

Other residents have added doors to convince surveyors that they need two houses as compensation for surrendering their house in the slum for airport expansion.

“By adding more than one entrance, they claim multiple houses in the Kurla tenements,” said another local, requesting anonymity.

Last year, the Bombay high court (HC) had directed the Mumbai Metropolitan Development Region Development Authority to clear slums that came up after 2009, particularly those growing

vertically. But local residents said the state-appointed nodal agency has done little.

“Vertical slums pose a huge safety risk, as some of them fall right under the flight path. There is barely a distance of 100m between the hutments and the flights on approach,” said another local resident.

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