Supreme Court clears way for international airport at Goa’s Mopa
The work on the Rs 3,000 crore project for building the second international airport in Goa over 2,131 acres at the foothills of the Western Ghats was halted for nine months.Updated: Jan 17, 2020 00:06 IST
The Supreme Court on Thursday gave the go-ahead for the construction of an international airport at Goa’s Mopa by lifting the suspension it had imposed on its environmental clearance (EC) in March. It ordered that the construction should be subject to strict compliance with the conditions recommended by the Union environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC). The construction should be done under the supervision of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), the court said.
“We direct the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute to be appointed to oversee compliance with the directions cumulatively issued by this Court. The suspension on the EC shall accordingly stand lifted,” the judgment said.
The work on the Rs 3,000 crore project for building the second international airport in Goa over 2,131 acres at the foothills of the Western Ghats was halted for nine months. Officials are hoping the work would soon be resumed and say they can set a revised deadline of early 2022 for the completion of the project’s first phase. The project was initially scheduled to be completed by September 2020.
A bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta based its decision on a fresh report submitted by the EAC recommending grant of the EC to the airport with additional environmental safeguards and conditions.
The recommendation of the EAC is based on additional data submitted by the Goa government. After the work on the project was halted in March following the Supreme Court’s order, the state government provided information to the EAC regarding reserved forests, rivers, wetlands and mangroves in the vicinity of the proposed airport.
According to the fresh information, there are seven reserved forests within 15 km of the proposed airport. Besides this, there are also four rivers in the vicinity of the airport in Goa and one in Maharashtra. The Western Ghats Mountain range also falls within the airport’s study area, according to the information provided to the environment ministry.
“In the proceedings that followed the judgment of this Court [in March], the project proponent sought to remedy its failure by taking into account additional information on significant aspects of the environment. In the process leading to the grant of the EC as well as the lifting of its suspension by this Court, numerous mitigatory conditions have been imposed on the project proponent,” the court noted in its judgment while lifting the suspension.
Importantly, the airport will be constructed and operated by adopting a zero-carbon programme after the court ordered the same taking into account the assurance tendered by the concessionaire GMR Goa International Airport Limited, which is building the airport. A zero-carbon programme will be implemented both during the construction and operational phases of the airport.
The zero-carbon programme eliminates or minimises carbon emissions due to airport operations from reaching the atmosphere. This is achieved by developing infrastructures and systems, which generate zero or minimum carbon emissions during its operations. It includes the adoption of green building concepts, generation and use of renewable energy and use of energy-efficient systems.
“We are of course disappointed with the order but we will continue to fight against it in the remaining available avenues. Ideally, the EIA [environmental impact assessment] should have been conducted afresh. We believe that this project is anti-people and anti-development and have been able to prove that the EIA study is flawed and was a product of government policy which itself is anti-people and against the environment,” said Abhijit Prabhudesai, who has been at the forefront of an environmental movement against the project.
The court had in March suspended the EC granted to the project in October 2015 saying the process for its grant was flawed. The concerns highlighted in the court’s March judgment related to the need to preserve the biodiversity of the Western Ghats.
The court in that judgment emphasised the failure of Goa, as the project proponent, to provide complete information on the existence of reserved forests including those which fall within a 15 km radial distance of the proposed airport. Some of the specific aspects on which the court noted its concerns were preservation of forests, existence of ecologically-sensitive areas with their attendant features such as flora and fauna and the impact of the proposed construction on the flow of water in natural water channels.
Following the judgment of the court, the project proponent furnished supplementary information to the EAC which revealed certain significant environmental features. The EAC had then submitted a fresh report recommending grant of the EC.
The Mopa International Airport was proposed in 1997 due to the saturation at the other airport in Dabolim which also doubles up as a Navy base. Dabolim airport was intended to serve four million passengers annually while the existing passenger traffic is about 7.5 million annually. The proposed greenfield airport will have a capacity to handle 4.4 million passengers in Phase I, 13 million passengers in Phase II and 30 million passengers in Phase III annually.