FE Editorial : Just Jairam

When the minister of environment and forests,Jairam Ramesh,talks of the ecological disaster that could occur if the second airport in Navi Mumbai is cleared,he has to be taken seriously.

Written by The Financial Express | Published:August 20, 2010 3:27 am

When the minister of environment and forests,Jairam Ramesh,talks of the ecological disaster that could occur if the second airport in Navi Mumbai is cleared,he has to be taken seriously. He is on record saying the diversion of the two rivers of Gadhi and Ulve could create a situation where,as in 2005,there could be serious floods in the city—large-scale construction is said to have affected the Mithi river’s ability to drain water which resulted in the huge floods. On a scale of 1 to 10,he says,the diversion of the rivers is a point 10 concern. Jairam points to MPs in Mumbai who have suggested an alternate site near Kalyan where the defence ministry already owns enough land. This site,it appears,was shot down by the then National Security Advisor as being too close to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre’s Experimental High Pressure Physics Laboratory—indeed,the area above the laboratory was to be declared a no-flight zone. It is these issues that an Expert Appraisal Committee will examine over the next few days.

The Indian Express has detailed how the congestion at the existing Mumbai airport has ensured it is no longer competitive vis-à-vis the one in New Delhi,on how the additional circling that planes have to undertake above the airports costs Rs 1,000 crore in fuel alone each year,but the issue goes far beyond Mumbai. In the next 20 years,a McKinsey study points out,India will add as many people in urban areas as it has in the last 40. Between 1971 and 2008,India’s urban population rose from 110 million to 340 million and this will rise to 590 million by 2030. That’s twice the population of the US and will require 700-900 million square feet of commercial and residential space each year—a new Chicago is how McKinsey puts it. Around 2.5 billion square metres of roads need to be paved (20 times that of the last decade)… the list goes on. Urbanisation cannot be stopped given the economic imperative to leave villages,the question is whether India wants to approach this as a Shanghai or as a Dharavi. The sheer numbers,and the logic extended by Jairam,imply there will be many more Singur-type protests and many more Mithis. We know the problem,but what we need are solutions. A solution may still be found in Mumbai,given its high profile as the country’s financial capital,but there’s a much larger issue of urbanisation here. We know how much land is needed and probably where. What we need is a roadmap to how we’re going to get there. You can dismiss Ajit Gulabchand’s comment about how a few hundred acres of mangroves cannot be allowed to hold Mumbai ransom as biased since his construction firm built the Bandra-Worli Sea Link,but unless an answer is found,an extended Dharavi is the future of urban India.

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