Sucheta Dalal :Proposed Navi Mumbai international airport lands in fresh trouble
Sucheta Dalal

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Proposed Navi Mumbai international airport lands in fresh trouble  

May 5, 2010

Work on the Navi Mumbai International Airport has run into fresh trouble with villagers affected by the proposed project boycotting a crucial meeting with the authorities today.


"We believe that the conditions being put forth are not in our best interests," said Mahindra Patil, sarpanch of Pargaon, one of the affected villages where agricultural land is yet to be acquired by CIDCO.


The villagers met yesterday evening to discuss the matter among themselves, and thereafter, chose to boycott today's meeting. They have also handed over written petitions detailing the reasons behind their non co-operation to the authorities, including CIDCO, the district collector, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), and the tehsildar.


In a letter dated 26 March 2010, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) had notified the villagers that a public feedback meeting will be held on 5 May 2010. The main objective of the meeting was to get feedback from the villagers regarding the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report that was presented to them by the authorities in mid-March 2010.


The EIA report, put together by the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering (CESE), IIT Bombay, runs into five volumes and contains reports that were prepared by specialised agencies commissioned to study various environmental aspects of the project. The EIA report notes in section 4.12 (Land Status & Settlement) of its first volume (Executive Summary) that out of the 2,054 hectares (ha) required for the project, 1,154ha is in City and Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (CIDCO)'s possession, 443ha of government land is being transferred to CIDCO, while the balance is private land that is still being acquired.


Confirming the same in his presentation on Wednesday, Jayant Kulkarni, general manager for SEZ, CIDCO additionally disclosed that of the 443ha of Government land, 188ha has already been transferred to CIDCO.


While CIDCO has been tight-lipped on any specific deadline for land acquisition, it is learnt that a special land acquisition officer (SLO), Nandakumar Koshti, is currently overseeing the land acquisition activities pertaining to the airport. While the SLO has not yet commented on the precise status of these land acquisitions, some in his office have confirmed that they are currently working on the matter.


According to information provided by the villagers, the last public declaration pertaining to land acquisition was published in local newspapers on 16 February 2010. This declaration has lead to more confusion and discontent among the villagers as the purpose of land acquisition in it has been changed to "Navi Mumbai Project" as opposed to the "International Airport" cited in an earlier declaration dated 10 January 2010.


Many locals strongly believe that portions of the land being acquired under the project will be used for other projects too. They said that they have tried to ascertain the reason for this sudden change in the declaration, and have not yet received any convincing answer.


They have also pointed out that a resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) committee was to be formed with representation from each of the affected villages. This too has not yet materialised. 


In the meeting today, officials further informed that the EIA has been submitted to the Centre and environmental clearance is awaited.


Replying to queries, an official confirmed that a second phase of the hydro-geological survey conducted by the Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA), Water Supply and Sanitation Department, government of Maharashtra, is yet to be undertaken. The GSDA has recommended in the current EIA that a second phase be conducted since the present hydro-geological study collected and analysed only post-monsoon data. The second phase will include pre-monsoon data, among other things.


CIDCO reiterated in its presentation today that it expects to start work on the project this year and is aiming to complete the first phase of the project by 2013, at an estimated cost of Rs4,952 crore. However, if today's protests are indicative of things to come, the project is in for a tough ride, and it might be very difficult to stop it from running into additional time and cost overruns. — Praveen Kurup

-- Sucheta Dalal