‘No alternative to Navi Mumbai’

Mumbai’s existing airport cannot be expanded to increase capacity because it is boxed in the heart of the city where not a single extra acre of land is available.

Written by Ranjani Raghavan | Mumbai | Published:August 20, 2010 1:24 am

Mumbai’s existing airport cannot be expanded to increase capacity because it is boxed in the heart of the city where not a single extra acre of land is available. Mumbai International Airport Ltd’s (MIAL’s) efforts to even get back its own land that has been taken over by slums underscores the pressing need for the second airport.

MIAL took over operations of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) in 2006. A year later,it contracted a real estate giant to resettle slumdwellers who have occupied a large slice of the airport’s highly constrained airside. Four years on,it is yet to recover space from a single shanty.

An earlier attempt to enumerate the slumdwellers was abandoned halfway. A new survey is now set to start as MIAL makes another attempt to reclaim the most vital resource it needs to build extra taxiways and parking bays before the 2012-13 deadline for the modernisation of the airport runs out.

Hostile environment,abandoned surveys

Of the 1,976 acres of land with CSIA,276 acres are encroached by 31 slum pockets,comprising an estimated 60,000 shanties,crammed cheek by jowl with aircraft hangars and taxiways. Fourteen of these pockets had been identified earlier as “critical” for airport infrastructure,which must be relocated first to make way for taxiways and parking bays,without which raising the capacity of the near-saturation airport is impossible. Resettling these slumdwellers and reclaiming that land has,however,remained a non-starter,even forcing MIAL to realign its renovation plans for the airport.

Arif Naseem Khan,Guardian Minister for Mumbai’s suburbs,whose constituency includes much of the airport’s slum pockets,now says the first phase of rehabilitation could begin as early as Diwali.

But there is no clarity on who will conduct this survey. HDIL,among the biggest players in slum rehabilitation and Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in Mumbai and contracted by MIAL to undertake the resettlement work,says the survey will be jointly executed by “government machinery” and HDIL. However,Mumbai’s Additional Collector (Encroachments Removal) Baliram Pawar said his office is only drafting the list of those eligible for rehabilitation. “MIAL or HDIL will give us data of the slumdwellers,” Pawar told The Indian Express.

The other,bigger,impediment is the hostility surveys and surveyors face in the slum pockets. The 2007 survey was abandoned after counting 25,000 houses,and a fresh survey launched about six months ago ran aground almost immediately. “People wanted to know where they would be shifted. Without that information it was impossible to continue the survey given the local opposition,” said Pawar.

Sarang Wadhawan,Managing Director of HDIL,says the rehabilitation plan was not ready at the time of the earlier surveys. HDIL has now revealed that 17,000 houses are coming up in Kurla (West),7,000 of which are nearly ready. Another 6,000 houses are coming up in Kurla (East). “Development is under way on two other plots,both in Bhandup,” said Wadhawan.

But there is opposition. “A new survey makes no sense,” said Parag Alavani,BJP Mumbai general secretary and a former corporator from Vile Parle,who has organised slumdwellers demanding clarity on rehabilitation plans.

“Slumdwellers were told the earlier survey may have left out many of them and therefore a fresh survey is needed. But we are demanding that they simply draw up an eligibility list,which can then be updated if people are found to have been left out,” said Alavani. In the absence of a survey,it is now not even certain exactly how many families live on airport land — the minister’s estimate of 60,000 and HDIL’s estimate of 80,000 are wide apart.

Weeks after taking charge,MIAL had suggested to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) that at least 10,000 homes should be moved by the end of 2006. In subsequent months,senior police officials and bureaucrats received a series of pleas for police assistance to complete the plane table survey. The survey was to have been over by December 2006,but was never completed. While Wadhawan believes phase-wise rehabilitation will proceed “in due course,” how long that will take is anybody’s guess.

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