The Navi Mumbai airport project received its final approval a Stage 2 forest clearance from the Centre on Tuesday, clearing the tarmac for work on the ground like flattening hills and diverting rivers to take off.
The Forest Advisory Committee of the environment ministry in Delhi gave the nod impressed with a presentation made by Cidco, the nodal authority, on compliance with the 35 conditions the ministry had laid down while giving its first clearance in 2013. It included handing over a 242-hectare green patch at Sudhagad near Khopoli in compensation against acquisition of around 250 hectare of deemed forest area for the greenfield airport.
Work on the ground-starting from pre-development measures such as land reclamation or cutting of hills, shifting of the extra high voltage transmission (EHVT) lines that supply power to Mumbai, diversion of the Ulve and Gadhi rivers and creation of a mangrove lagoon-can start in a couple of months. The work orders for these undertakings have been issued.
“We expect the selection of the main airport developer (after financial bidding) by October. By the time construction starts by the year-end or may be at the beginning of 2017, a certain amount of groundwork will be ready,” said a senior Cidco official. Three bidders-GVK-led MIAL, GMR Group, and Tata Realty & Infrastructure along with their partners-have been shortlisted to build the new airport based on the highest gross revenue share they offer to Cidco.
Completing a process that started in 2007, the airport has now received all the major clearances required for work to begin on the site. “All the necessary compliances for Stage 2 approval were completed and the application was submitted through the state government to MoEF on December 29, 2015. After regular follow-ups by Cidco and various meetings at different levels of the forest department, the same has been appraised and finally cleared by the Forest Advisory Committee in its fourth meeting of 2016 held on July 12,” an official said.
Almost all 3,000 project-affected families have accepted the compensation package offered by the state government and have started signing agreements, said a Cidco official.
Considering the geography of the chosen site, the green clearance was always going to be the hardest. The project area covers a little over 250ha of forest land-141.5ha of reserved forest and 108.6ha of deemed forest (mangrove). When the Stage 1 clearance came, it laid out 35 steps to be complied with by Cidco and the state government, including transfer of 242ha of revenue land to the forest department for compensatory afforestation. Handing over of the Sudhagad plot, assurances to plant three times the mangroves in the acquired area, and the precautionary steps promised while diverting the rivers impressed the MoEF officials on Tuesday morning. Mangrove plantation has already begun at Kolikhar village near Kamothe in Navi Mumbai.