Ministers spar over Navi Mumbai airport

Maharashtra coastal authority clears its EIA report

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Wednesday 14 July 2010

The spat between the Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel and the Union minister of state for environment, Jairam Ramesh, over Navi Mumbai airport reached a flash point on July 2. Patel slammed Ramesh's ministry for delaying clearance to the proposed airport. In reply, Ramesh shot off a letter to Patel saying the delay was not on his ministry's part but that some mandatory documents were yet to be received.

“… the present proposal has substantial environmental impacts especially in the coastal areas. These include loss of over 121.4 hectares of mangroves, diversion of two rivers, levelling of an 80-metre-high hill and involves significant coastal zone management issues,” said Ramesh in his letter dated July 3.

The quarrel has its roots in an interview aired by news channel in which Patel claimed that the existing Mumbai airport had saturated and he had to think if new flights could be permitted there or not. “We can’t be overly obsessive about environmental issues. We can’t give priority to 50 to 100 acres (40 hectares) of degradation over a large infrastructure project?” said Patel.

Ramesh was quick to respond. According to him, the environment ministry received the draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) study and the state pollution control board’s report on the public hearing only on June 7. The hearing was held on May 5 and was boycotted by all the 18 affected villages (see Backdoor democracy, Down To Earth, May 31, 2010). The environment ministry then wrote to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) asking for its recommendations on the proposed airport. The ministry also asked for a final EIA report, along with the authority’s comments on it.

“… the MoEF needs to receive the final EIA report from the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (CIDCO) and the final recommendations of MCZMA. The expert appraisal committee… will then consider and provide its recommendations to enable me to take an appropriate decision,” said Ramesh. General manager of CIDCO, Jayant Kulkarni claimed the report submitted on June 7 was the final EIA.

The spat made MCZMA clear the EIA report on July 5. “The authority has cleared the EIA and would be recommending it to the environment ministry,” informed Valsa R Nair Singh, secretary of state environment department. Singh is also the chairperson of MCZMA.

The issue of rehabilitation of project affected families, though remains unresolved. According to Kulkarni, CIDCO has prepared Rs 350 crore rehabilitation package for the affected families, which is still under discussion. Local people, however, are unaware of it. “Our meeting with CIDCO got cancelled twice. We have formally written to it demanding an immediate meeting to decide on our rehabilitation, but are yet to hear from CIDCO,” said R C Gharat, president of the association of 18 affected villages.

Coastal rules amended to allow airport

August 27, 2007: MOEF first receives proposal for developing Navi Mumbai airport

May 15, 2009: Ministry issues an amendment to the CRZ, 1991 notification making airport a permissible activity at Navi Mumbai

June 22, 2009: CIDCO submits proposal to develop Navi Mumbai airport

Aug 4, 2009: Ministry issues terms of reference for conducting EIA study

December 23, 2009: A central team visits proposed site

Feb 8, 2010: Additional terms of reference for EIA issued

June 7, 2010: Ministry receives draft EIA and public hearing report

June 22, 2010: Ministry writes to MCZMA asking for its recommendations

July 5, 2010: MCZMA clears the EIA

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