The idea of a new international airport for Mumbai is almost as old as the present name for Bombay! Responding to suggestions made in the mid-1990s, the civil aviation ministry began the search for a site for the proposed new international airport in 1997.
Thirteen years and several hurdles later, the plan has finally got a new "estimated time of departure" (ETD).
The original project proposal of 2007, under which the first phase of the new airport was to have been completed by year 2012 and the last phase by year 2028, had estimated the total cost to be Rs 9,968 crore (Rs 99.69 billion).
Rupees 4,200 crore (Rs 42 billion0 in the first phase, Rs 1,896 crore (Rs 18.96 billion) for the second phase, Rs 1,600 crore (Rs 16 billion) in the third phase and Rs 2,272 crore or Rs 22.72 billion (for the fourth and final phase).
With the project now likely to take off sometime in 2011, it remains to be seen what kind of cost escalation there would be and how much would be the slippage on time targets.
While public attention is presently focused on the loss to the exchequer and the nation caused by corruption, it is entirely possible that the loss caused by delays in project implementation could be much higher.
Apart from the airport itself, the plans involve a series of related investments running into several thousand crores.
To a large extent, this increased cost and time overrun are due to differences within the Union government, between the ministries of civil aviation and environment and forests, on one hand, and the central and state governments, on the other.
It almost appears as if all these internal differences were ironed out under the pressure of the recent political scam and crisis in Mumbai.
The only advantage that the Navi Mumbai airport
In the rush to overcome the time handicap, one hopes the companies implementing the project will not do a shoddy job and will build a truly world-standard airport.
The new airport-related infrastructure and connectivity development will enable Mumbai to grow in new directions, geographically and economically, easing the pressure on south Mumbai.
There has already been a real-estate boom, some of which would have certainly benefited the locals but some of which may well have already lined the pockets of an assortment of decision-makers and their cronies.
Even at this stage, the state government must put in place the required legislation, urban planning authorities and systems that facilitate planned development of the new airport's hinterland.
It is easy for the Maharashtra government and the people of Mumbai to address all the environmental demands and suggestions made by the Union government. The idea of converting the Juhu airport into a green lung for Mumbai is good.
The most important environmental problem from a modern airport is, in fact, noise pollution. As so many great airports around the world show, there is no need to assume that airport construction should necessarily have any other negative ecological consequences if the airport is designed sensibly and the area around it planned properly.