Environment group challenges green clearance renewal request for Navi Mumbai International AirportUpdated: Sep 25, 2020, 00:43 IST
Activists have filed objections before a government panel against the fresh environment clearance (EC) and coastal regulation zone (CRZ) renewal request made for the Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) by planning agency City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (Cidco). The request will be heard by an expert appraisal committee (EAC for infrastructure projects) under the Union environment ministry on Friday.
Non-governmental organisation (NGO) Conservation Action Trust (CAT) has objected to the request, highlighting alleged violations and non-compliance of conditions imposed during previous EC clearances. From objections related to site selection, violation of wetland rules, bird strike hazard safety, furnishing incomplete and misleading information by Cidco, livelihood risks, and impact of heritage areas and ecosystems near NMIA, the group has requested the EAC through a letter (which HT has reviewed) to scrap the clearance and allow CAT a hearing before renewing any future clearances.
“NMIA is an environmentally disastrous project. It is unsafe and will cause serious flooding to surrounding villages and urban nodes. Apparently, neither Cidco nor the Union environment ministry seems to have heard of climate change, sea level rise or bird strikes. Now that the adverse impacts of this project are clearly visible, this is a good time to stop wasting money on this project,” said Shweta Bhatt, director-conservation, CAT.
A member of the EAC, requesting anonymity said, “The objection has been noted. We will hear Cidco’s presentation on Friday, and request them to respond to allegations made in the letter.”
The new greenfield NMIA, first proposed over 20 years ago and approved in 2007 by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), is to serve as a second major airport for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region after the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport. It is to be built on 1,160 hectares (ha), of which 250ha is forest land (including 108.5ha mangrove forests, roughly equivalent to 73 Wankhede Stadiums). On November 22, 2010, the Union environment ministry granted EC and CRZ clearance for NMIA, and wildlife and forest clearances were granted in 2013 and 2017, respectively. The EC was subject to conditions such as compensatory plantation of mangroves over an area of 615ha, including the development of a 245ha biodiversity mangrove park, a 60-ha area mangrove restoration on the west side of the airport site around Moha and Panvel creeks and 310ha area on the northeast end of the airport between Gadhi River, Mankhurd Panvel Rail Corridor. Additionally, the National Highway 4B was to be declared no development zone, among other conditions.
After garnering an extension of validity for the EC again in December 2017 up to November 11 this year, Cidco applied for EC renewal on May, claiming to have almost completed all on-site land development work.
According to CAT’s letter to the EAC, the NMIA project site is ecologically sensitive and has been identified as a wetland in the National Wetland Inventory Atlas (NWIA) Maharashtra.
“There is rampant destruction of mangroves, mudflats and creeks at the project site. Rivers are being diverted; forests, hills and the outcrops have been destroyed. The site is at serious risk of bird strikes with safety concern for passengers while 266 species of birds including threatened species recognised by the IUCN list will be impacted by the project,” the letter read, adding, “Previous plans for developing a mangrove sanctuary between Karnala and NMIA were deleted while Cidco failed to develop any mangrove park as recommended by the EC. Compensatory mangrove plantation has been undertaken at a site already harbouring dense mangroves.”
Despite the fact that this site fell 26% in CRZ-I (most ecologically sensitive) category and comprised 400 acres of mangroves, 1000 acres of mud flats, and 250 acres of forest lands, the present site was selected for this project, CAT’s letter stressed, adding, “The haste in reclamation led to flooding across Kombudbhuj, Dungi, Paragaon, Khalche Owale and Bhangarpada villages across Ulwe.”
Pramod Patil, nodal officer (environment), Cidco, said, “Major recommendations involving environmental monitoring and compensatory mangrove plantation have been completed by us as directed in the EC. However, other conditions are yet to be fulfilled. Discussions on the mangrove park are still underway.”
Cidco’s chief planner Ramesh Dengle refused to comment on the issue, while chief general manager (transportation and airport) said, “We cannot speak to the media about ongoing projects.”
Status report of efforts at NMIA construction site
According to submissions made by Cidco before EAC, the pre-development activity, including land development for NMIA, commenced in April 2017 after receiving forest clearance.
“This is nearing completion. The cost of approximately Rs3,368 crore has already been incurred on this on-going critical airport project, which is 24% of the phase-I project cost (Rs14,179 crore). Cidco has additionally incurred a cost of Rs1,813 crore towards resettlement and rehabilitation for the project. Thus, a total of Rs5,181 crore has been incurred on the project till December 2019. The schedule of NMIA project implementation has extended as forest clearance was received in 2017, and the project on-site activities could not take place prior to this,” the letter justifying the EC requirement before the EAC read.
What activists asked the government panel to consider
CAT requested the EAC committee to take into consideration the following suggestions while considering green clearance renewal:
•Status of compliance with the conditions imposed in the EC, CRZ, forest and wildlife clearances
•Change of project parameters
•Cumulative Impacts of additional projects linked to NMIA
•Impact of diversion of additional rivers
•Status of mangrove reafforestation and destruction as a violation of Bombay high court orders
•Bird hazards studies
•Rehabilitation of locals
•Destruction of wetlands within Cidco’s jurisdiction
•Compliance with noise standards
•Impact on Elephanta caves