Asserting there were “sensitive” environmental issues in the way of the Navi Mumbai airport project, Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday met Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and the two reached a compromise, signalling that the new international airport may finally clear all hurdles by next month.

“We have made good progress on a number of issues. The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Environment and Forests Ministry will meet on November 9 and 10 and after that clearance will be given to the project. I would say that satisfaction level is now 70 per cent though 100 per cent may not be possible,” Mr. Ramesh told reporters after the meeting.

‘Constructive meeting'

“It was a very constructive meeting with Mr. Jairam Ramesh and a lot of progress was made. There are various sensitive issues relating to environment involved in the project which are important. We are very hopeful that Navi Mumbai airport will finally see the light of the day,” Mr. Patel told journalists.

While acknowledging the cooperation of the Maharashtra government and the Civil Aviation Ministry, Mr. Ramesh said the main concern was how to address environment-related issues and incorporate them in the design of the airport. “The EAC will now take a final decision after its meeting next month,” he said.

Both Mr. Patel and Mr. Ramesh agreed that Gadhi River could not be diverted and were of the view that Ulwe River would have to be diverted if the project has to go ahead.

Further discussion

“We will have further discussion after the meeting of the expert committee but substantial progress has been made since we met for the first time three months ago. Both the sides have shown great flexibility. Navi Mumbai is the only location where a new airport can come up. Other locations like Wada were ruled out as it is about 120 km away from Mumbai and Kalyan was also ruled out because of strategic reasons'' Mr. Ramesh added. He said that the issue relating to protection of mangroves has been settled and the mountains would have to go, giving way for constructing two runways. Most of the non-essential services would be shifted out, he added. .

In the recent past, both the ministries have been on a collision course over the project that was cleared by the Union Cabinet in 2007. The Environment Ministry had been opposing the project as it felt that building an airport at that location will involve diversion of two rivers, destruction of 400-acres of mangroves and blasting of a hill that is nearly 80 metres above sea level.

Several constraints

With the present airport at Mumbai having undergone renovation and modernisation recently, there are still severe constraints on it that come in the way of its expansion and the bursting commercial capital of the country certainly needs a second international airport. About 650 flights arrive and depart from Mumbai airport daily. The airport has two cross-runways: main runway and optional runway and only one can be used at a time, making it one of the most congested airports. Last year, Mumbai airport handed 25.6 million passengers and the passenger movement looks set to swell further. If the airport at Navi Mumbai comes up, the two can well handle passengers up to 90 to 100 million every year.