An RTI query has revealed that a crucial clearance required to begin constructing the proposed airport in Navi Mumbai has not been obtained from the forest department at Alibag, despite the fact that both the City Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) and the state government have claimed that all permissions are in place.CIDCO and state officials said they plan to start pre-development work at the site, including diverting a river and reclaiming mangroves, by February 2016. 645 hectares of mangrove cover will be cleared, even though 250 hectares are of good quality, to make way for the airport’s main premises. Alibag’s forest department, which processed the proposal for the airport, had written to the state principal secretary (forest) on December 17, 2013 to assert that there needed to be compensatory afforestation to replant the mangroves.
CIDCO is currently in the final stages of awarding the contract for the work and the state has repeatedly claimed that they’ve obtained all required permissions. Four companies who fulfilled their initial criteria, which included a minimum net worth of Rs 2,375 crore and experience developing projects worth Rs 9,500 crore, have now qualified for the submission of request for proposal (RFP) for the new international airport. These include GMR Delhi, GVK-led Mumbai International Airport Ltd, Zurich with Hiranandani Developers, and MIA Infrastructure of France along with Tata Realty. The project cost, which was pegged at Rs 4,766 crore in 1998, has increased to Rs 15,000 crore. In all, 2,268 hectares are required for the airport.
Both CIDCO and the state claim they are in the final stages of starting work and that its first phase is expected to be complete by 2019. However, when asked CIDCO Managing director Sanjay Bhatia about Alibag forest division’s reply to the RTI query, Bhatia said that CIDCO has got all environmental clearances, but admitted that the forest clearances are pending. “We will get it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city’s environmentalists continue to raise alarms regarding the construction. Environmentalist Debi Goenka said, “The location is completely unsuitable for the project. It is a low lying land which is being reclaimed and the river Gadhi is being diverted. After what we have seen in the recent Chennai floods, it will be a criminal act of folly to go ahead with this project. It is true that they do not have forest clearances here. The Ministry of Environment and Forest had asked the Bombay Natural History Society to conduct studies on the region and seven reports submitted by BNHS show that the area is very rich in bird life. The question is what is going to happen with the birds and aeroplanes.” D Stalin, from the NGO Vanshakti, said, “The CIDCO first said that 100 acres of mangroves would be affected, but now it is evident that there will be damage to more than 500 hectares.This coastal wetland full of biodiversity should have been the last choice.CIDCO has been lying about the real damage they will cause. The RTI reply confirms that no forest clearances have been granted.”