The Rs 4,675-crore (Rs 46.75 billion) Navi Mumbai airport project, which is being developed by CIDCO, may be delayed by a few months in the wake of serious objections being raised by the environment ministry.
The project that has Cabinet clearance and approval from the International Civil Aviation Organisation will now be taken to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for final clearance since the environment ministry has raised issues relating to the site.
The ministry has, in fact, suggested that perhaps CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation) can identify an alternate site within the Navi Mumbai limits.
Several large companies, including the two Ambani factions, L&T, GVK, Tatas and GMR, are keenly interested in building the new facility and were expected to bid for it later this year.
At heart of the issue is the 115 hectares (or 7.3 per cent) of the total land that falls under mangrove forest cover but is within the airport boundary.
In October 2007, the National Coastal Zone Management Authority had cleared the project despite this on the agreement that CIDCO would replant this elsewhere in a nearby area. It also suggested certain other mitigatory measures, which CIDCO agreed to comply with. A month after that written permission was also given by the Maharashtra Coastal Management Zonal Authority.
Based on this, CIDCO had gone in for a global consultant (Louis Berger), who are in the process of doing the detailed feasibility report and preparing bid documents.
However, even before work could fully begin, CIDCO received a letter from the environment ministry raising objections to the site and suggesting that perhaps an alternative site could be considered.
The site is also considered environmentally sensitive as it involves the 'training' of one of the rivers in the area whose meandering course may need to be altered for two parallel runways. IIT-Mumbai is the environmental consultant for the project. In addition, CIDCO has engaged the Pune-based Central Water and Power Research Institute as a consultant for hydrological studies.
According to senior CIDCO official: "We are aware that the site has slightly peculiar geographical constraints but in view of the urgency of the project, CIDCO has taken every possible step to mitigate the environmental impact. So when we got this letter, it was a bolt from the blue."
The official added looking at an alternate site at this stage will be impossible as a resettlement policy for the villages located in the area has been finalised. CIDCO has already acquired 78 per cent of the land and is the process of acquiring the rest.
He says that by their estimates, there will be a total passenger traffic of 91 million per year in the Mumbai region by 2030. Of this, Santa Cruz will be able to handle maximum 41 million.
Navi Mumbai airport is being built with twin runways to accommodate 40 million passengers per annum. The figure will be expandable to 50 million in the first year itself.