Having gone through all the objections and queries raised by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh,the Civil Aviation Ministry has decided to stand firm on its decision to build Mumbais second airport at Navi Mumbai.
After detailed studies on all aspects,the Ministry has concluded that there is no better alternative.
Ahead of the Environment Ministrys Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) meeting tomorrow,the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) of Maharashtra today briefed Civil Aviation Ministry officials in detail on all issues raised by Environment Ministry following which it was decided to fully back the project.
The airport project has run into delays because of objections by the Environment Ministry.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA),after examining the technical aspects in detail,has given a clear assessment that Navi Mumbai is the only acceptable site if the current airport is also to be kept operational. Any other site would negatively impact the technical parameters of the existing airport. A DGCA representative will convey this to the EAC tomorrow,said sources.
While a breakthrough is not expected given the kind of sharp divisions between both ministries on the issue,sources said,there is a possibility of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel meeting Ramesh next week to find a way out. The two ministers have not had even one meeting so far on the issue.
As for the questions raised by the Environment Minister,the Civil Aviation Ministry has prepared its response:
Diversion of two rivers
The Environment Minister identified this as his biggest concern because it could increase chances of flooding in Panvel town. Two rivers,Gadhi and Ulwe are impacted by the project. While Gadhi River which flows through Panvel will need be straightened, the Ulwe requires slight diversion because the runway cannot be built over it.
Reason: the water is brackish in this small river and could corrode the runway in the long run.
On the flooding issue,the Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS),Pune,has carried out a detailed analysis including developing a mathematical and physical model.
The conclusion: Studies indicate that flood levels along Gadhi River upstream of NH-4B bridge and Sion-Panvel road bridge remain unchanged due to airport development. On the contrary,the study observes that reorientation of Gadhi and Ulwe rivers improves flow conditions and enables a small decrease in flood levels in and around the airport. The impacts of activity is,therefore,positive.
Flattening of a Hill
The hill,which has to be levelled to construct the Navi Mumbai airport,is used for quarrying. It was notified even before Coastal Regulation Zone norms came into force and is still functional. Due to quarrying activity and other factors,the height of the hill has come down from 132 m to 92 m.
CIDCO has listed some 17 sites that it first examined and of which six were finally shortlisted: Wada,Ansoli,Balegaon,Kinvali,Kalyan (South) and Navi Mumbai.
These were all sites within 100 km of Santa Cruz. Another site which AAI first identified was Rewa-Mandwa but,according to CIDCO,this was about 120 km from Santa Cruz and would have caused more biodiversity damage. More importantly,there was hardly any physical infrastructure connecting the place,which was as it is far off,and was being considered for port development in which the Navy had an interest.
Of the six selected,five were rejected because of hills in proximity and the fact that angle of the glide path slope exceeded the stipulated maximum of three degrees. Navi Mumbai met these requirements and was,hence,selected.
In the case of Kalyan (South),which Ramesh sought to revive as an alternate site,there is a sensitive BARC facility occupying 53 acres. More so,the approach funnel for this site intersected with that of the existing airport and would have rendered one of the current runways inoperable.
The Environment Minister has himself admitted that mangroves around the Navi Mumbai airport site were not of high quality. Nonetheless,an analysis by CIDCOs consultants and the EIA by IIT Mumbai has shown that 161 hectares of mangroves around Gadhi River would be affected. So CIDCO has identified six sites near Thane,along the coast,where it will carry out compensatory afforestation in 400 hectares.
These issues,official sources said,will be explained in detail at tomorrows meeting with a technical opinion from DGCA as well as from the Airports Authority of India their representatives have been drafted in for this purpose supporting Navi Mumbai as the most appropriate site.
The Civil Aviation Ministry will also express its reservations to the EAC on its plan to have the Bombay Natural History Society carry out a study on the impact this may have on migratory birds and other fauna.
The Ministry is of the view that every development activity has an environmental cost but in this case,all efforts have been taken to minimise the damage.