Central govt panel recommends fresh environmental clearance for Navi Mumbai airport
An expert appraisal committee (EAC) of the Union environment ministry has recommended granting fresh environmental clearance (EC) to the Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA). The recommendation was made during the last EAC meeting on October 8, minutes of which were accessed by HT this week. All the terms and conditions of the EC granted in 2010 for the project’s nodal agency – City Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) – have been retained.
The new greenfield NMIA is envisioned as the second major airport for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region after the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Santacruz. It will be built on 1,160 hectares (ha), of which 250ha is forest land, including 108.5ha of mangrove forests, which is roughly equivalent to 73 Wankhede Stadiums.
On November 22, 2010, the ministry granted EC and coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance for NMIA, while the 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 245-ha biodiversity mangrove park, a 60-ha mangrove restoration on the west side of the airport around Moha and Panvel creeks and 310-ha on the northeast end of the airport between Gadhi River and Mankhurd Panvel Rail Corridor.
Additionally, National Highway 4B was to be declared as a ‘no development zone’, among other conditions. After garnering an extension of validity for 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.
As per the minutes of EAC’s October 8 meeting, 400ha of compensatory mangrove plantation has been completed through the forest department, while another 108ha of mangroves have been planted in a no-development zone (NDZ) in Kolekhar village. The plans to develop the mangrove park, in Vaghivali village, have been scrapped as per the recommendation of the Bombay Natural History Society. However, Cidco has said it will retain the area in its present condition.
Of the total 9,492 trees that were slated to be cut for the project, 9,053 have been felled and of the 3,319 trees that had to be transplanted, only 1,493 trees have been transplanted by Cidco. As per the terms of the earlier EC, an off-site plantation of about 14,000 trees on 50.620ha outside the project site has been proposed near Jite Village in Raigad district. It was revealed in the EAC’s minutes that the construction of the Ulwe Recourse Channel (URC) for diversion of Ulwe River – a proposal which attracted stiff opposition from environmentalists – was completed in June 2019.
A Cidco spokesperson, “Granted that there have been several delays, but with the fresh EC almost finalised, we have to now only wait for the terms of the fresh CRZ clearance to be ratified by the environment ministry before we can go ahead with the project. We have obtained CRZ recommendation from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority in September. Our estimated timeline for completion of phases-1 and 2 is December 2024. After operations begin and traffic triggers can be assessed, expansion of phase-3 will be completed by 2028 and phase-4 by 2032.”
Last year, activists had filed objections against granting of fresh EC and CRZ for the project and highlighted the alleged violations and non-compliance of conditions imposed during previous clearances, from objections related to site selection, violation of wetland rules, bird strike hazard safety, furnishing of incomplete information by Cidco to livelihood risks, impact of heritage areas and ecosystems near NMIA.
The present site was selected for this project despite the fact that 26% of the airport site falls in CRZ-1 (most ecologically sensitive) category and comprised 400 acres of mangroves, 1,000 acres of mud flats and 250 acres of forest lands, environmentalists from Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust (CAT) alleged in a letter to EAC last year. “The haste in [pre-development] reclamation led to flooding across Kombudbhuj, Dungi, Paragaon, Khalche Owale and Bhangarpada villages across Ulwe,” the letter alleged.
Airport in satellite city
•Airport site area: 1,160ha
•Built-up area: 141ha
•Green zone area: 384.90ha
•Trees to be cut: 9,492
•Trees to be transplanted: 3,319
•Off-site plantation: 14,000 trees over 50ha
•Deadline for completion: 2024
•Expected employment: 90,000 people
•Project cost: ₹41,302 crore
•Environment management budget: ₹272 crore
•Project-affected families: 3,113
•Project displaced families: 2633
Project conceived 24 years ago
•1997: Project first conceived. Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) constitutes committee to find suitable site to decongest Mumbai airport
•2000: Cidco prepares techno-feasibility study
•2001: International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) conducts simulation study, confirms project feasibility
•2007: Cidco submits project feasibility and business plan report to MoCA; project gets in-principle nod of Union cabinet
•2008: Cidco appointed as the nodal agency
•2010: Project receives clearance from Ministry of Defence as well as initial EC from Union environment ministry up to November 2021
•2015: Maharashtra announces plans to develop a 600sqkm city named Naina (Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area) around airport
•2016: Project obtains forest clearance
•2017: Pre-development works begin amid protests by locals
•2018: Prime Minister Narendra Modi lays foundation stone for airport
•2021: Adani Airport Holdings announces completion of project by 2024, fresh EC granted