The expert appraisal committee of the ministry of environment and forests is due to meet today,Friday,and the question of clearances for Mumbais second airport will be on its agenda once again,as it has been for months now. And through those months,it has become clearer and clearer that there is simply no option but to go ahead with the airport,and at the site chosen 5,000 acres in the satellite town of Navi Mumbai. It is beginning to look like the environment ministry has chosen in this case to delay approvals for the sake of being obstructionist; as this newspaper has detailed in a special series of reports,the terms of reference for the environmental impact assessment that the committee had asked for were changed hastily,purely to make it tougher for the much-needed expansion in Mumbais air traffic capability to get off the ground.
Nobody denies the need for negative environmental consequences to be kept at a minimum. But creating difficulties out of thin air,as this ministry is determined to do in this particularly high-profile case,will have the worrying impact of souring the public mood against any form of environmental assessment. It will stand revealed as an easily gameable process,something that can be sufficiently undermined,that even Indias financial capital will see it lose its position as a transit hub.
For that is precisely what is beginning to happen. Delhi has already overtaken Mumbai in terms of the number of aircraft taking off and landing every day. Indian airlines that wish to expand into the lucrative long-haul sectors are unable to do so. The long-haul slack is being picked up by offshore hubs in Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf,which not only helps keep Indias struggling aviation sector down,but causes hundreds of flights to jet further than necessary every day,spewing extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere an environmental consequence that no limited appraisal report can capture. And,in any case,travellers into and out of Mumbai find themselves stuck with fewer and fewer flights at less and less convenient times. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has had his chance to make his case,and failed. He needs to recognise that,on every count,further obstructionism will have consequences. If he doesnt,the prime minister must make him recognise that.