Maharashtra now seeks wildlife clearance for Navi Mumbai airport

State had earlier ignored the presence of a bird sanctuary near airport

 
By Akshay Deshmane
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The Maharashtra wildlife board on Thursday recommended the Navi Mumbai airport project to the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for clearance. Chaired by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the board’s seventh meeting saw its most high profile project cleared with a few conditions imposed, ostensibly for dealing with the likely problem of bird hits. Clearance from the wildlife board became necessary because the Karnala bird sanctuary is within 10 km of the proposed airport site. “The board recommended the airport project with stringent conditions to prevent adverse impact on wildlife in protected areas located in its vicinity, particularly the Karnala bird sanctuary,” said Maharashtra’s principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), S W H Naqwi.

He informed that the following conditions had been imposed while giving the go ahead:

  • Rs 2 crore yearly fund for a period of 10 years to all protected areas in the Mumbai-Thane region, paid for by the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) for conservation activities
  • Plantation of mangroves in an area of 200 hectares around the airport
  • Inclusion of the assistant chief conservator of forests (Mumbai) and a member of any environment NGO on the monitoring committee of the official Rs 400 crore environment conservation plan. Only officials from the state administration had been included on this committee till now
  • Conducting mitigation studies for potential air and noise pollution at the site after the project is commissioned.

The move follows close on the heels of an activist protesting against the shortcomings in the ongoing avian fauna studies around the airport site, reported by Down To Earth. The study is being conducted by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) for preventing the likely problem of bird hits.

Reacting to the state wildlife board’s move, activist Debi Goenka said that he was disappointed that no action is being taken against officials who had suppressed information relating to the presence of the bird sanctuary earlier. He said that CIDCO and forest department officials should be held answerable by the chief minister. “That such mistakes can go on with projects of national prestige is shocking and shows lack of seriousness on part of the administration,” he said.

Principal Investigator of the avian fauna studies and director of the BNHS, Asad Rahmani, rubbished the concerns about bird hits. “The studies will be conducted over a period of three years and conclude with detailed recommendations for preventing bird hits,” he said. CIDCO’s official spokesperson remained unavailable for comment on the story.

CIDCO adamant
 
According to the forest department, the project proponent (CIDCO) had argued during meeting that flights would not face the problem of bird hits because their speed will be lesser than that of vehicles on National Highway 17, which runs near the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. “They claimed that the flights run through the funnel for approaching the runway and so their speed will be even lesser than that of over-speeding vehicles which ply on the highway. “This claim is impossible to verify presently, so a condition mandating studies after the project is built,” said Naqwi.

In another development, the state wildlife board recommended that three wetlands be nominated for recognition as Ramsar sites from Maharashtra. “Jayakwadi, Lonar and Nandur Madhmeshwar have been recommended to the Union environment ministry, but decisions to recommend Sewri creek and Ujni wetland have been deferred  because some members sought additional information concerning them. They will be taken up in the next meeting of the board,” said Naqwi.

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