Held up due to ‘green concerns', the Navi Mumbai airport is all set to roll, with the Environment Ministry giving its nod for the much-delayed and badly needed airport.

The Navi Mumbai airport project, though cleared by the Union Cabinet three years ago, kept tossing up and down between Civil Aviation and Environment Ministries over the past one year. Though Environment Ministry gave its approval for the construction of the airport 35 kms from the existing one at Sahar, it came with riders about resettlement of displaced people and development of mangroves around the site.

“Today, formally the environmental clearance has been given to the Navi Mumbai Project. The provisions of building the airport will start from today,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters here on Monday at a joint press conference with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel.

Conditional clearance

The clearance for the Rs. 8,722 crore project was given on the conditions that 678 hectares of mangroves will be developed in and around the project site, and river Gadhi will not be diverted besides 30 other riders which have to be implemented to minimise environmental impacts.

However, a 90-meter high hillock will have to be removed to smoothen the approach to runway and the “tidally influenced waterbody” Ulwe will be recoursed.

“A number of safeguards will have to be implemented to ensure that the environmental impact is kept to the minimum,” Mr. Ramesh said.

Steps for rehabilitation

Both Mr. Chavan and Mr. Patel said that bidding process for the development of the airport will be completed, and contracts will be awarded within next 8-12 months. The Chief Minister said that 3,000 families will have to be relocated, and early steps were being taken to rehabilitate them.

Lack of capacity

The existing Mumbai airport, where additional flights are now restricted due to saturation, is likely to exhaust its capacity of handling 40 million passengers annually by 2013.

The Navi Mumbai international project will be developed through Public-Private-Participation (PPP) mode in which the private party will hold 74 per cent, and the State-owned City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) and Airports Authority of India (AAI) will have 13 per cent stake each.

Describing the green clearance as an “extremely significant” step for Mumbai as well as the national economy, Mr. Patel said: “We have been very concerned at the lack of capacity of the (existing) Mumbai airport and difficulties in expanding it.”

The proposed airport will have two parallel runways 1.55 kms apart, even though it was initially suggested that their separation length will be 1.8 kms. “There is no compromise on technical parameters. The runway separation is as per international requirements for safe and simultaneous operations,” Mr. Patel said.

Mr. Chavan said that 436 hectares out of 1,160 hectares of land was to be acquired. The CIDCO already possesses 66 per cent of the land needed for the airport project, while 12 per cent more was in the possession of the State government.

The new airport is expected to handle 10 million passengers in its first operational year, doubling it to 20 million in eight years. By 2030, it would have a handling capacity of 40 million passengers.