airportThe Navi Mumbai International Airport is making headlines all over the country as two top Union Ministers debate on whether the airport should be or should not be. However, as the debate gets intense and dialogues between the two ministers are reportedly thawing, some significant issues are coming to light. These include the safety during landing and take-off in the airport to environment destruction and the benefitting political angle. That is why this weekend our top report is “Is the Navi Mumbai International Airport a battle between commercial political interests and environment?” A Civil Aviation Team was sent by Union Aviation Minister Praful Patel to visit the site of the Navi Mumbai Airport at Panvel. This after the ice between him and Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is reportedly thawing. There are reports that both the Ministers held a closed door meeting to discuss the project, following which Praful Patel has agreed to minimize environmental damage in the project. So what is the environment damage we are speaking about : Well to make the airport in Navi Mumbai two rivers – Gadhi and Ulwe have to be filled and diverted, a hill has to be blasted and mangroves spread on 400 acres have to be destroyed. However, there is much more to the entire battle than what meets the eye. And these things are being exposed by experts from various fields. The first being undoubtedly – environmentalists. All are completely against the present site for the Navi Mumbai airport project and speak in support of the stance taken by Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. Debi Goenka says that what is unfortunate is that we have a Chief Minister who on one hand speaks at Climate Change conference and says that we should not compromise on environment for development and on the other hand promotes projects like Navi Mumbai airport where interest of a certain lobby is given more priority than environment. And it’s not just noted environmentalists but even Observer Research Foundation that has said that the Navi Mumbai Airport is a bad idea. Observer Research Foundation is a prestigious private, not-for-profit think tank formed in 1990 to influence public policy formulation. There reasons for terming the airport as a bad idea are : The capacity of the proposed airport at Panvel will reach a saturation point in the next 25-35 years. By then, there will be no land left in and around Mumbai to build a third airport. The think tank says that while looking for a second airport, the government should plan for one which can handle 100 million passengers annually. The Navi Mumbai airport has a maximum capacity of 50 million passengers a year, and will become saturated in just three decades, against the worldwide norm of 100 years. In fact, experts say that if the slums around Mumbai airport are removed, then there is no need for an airport in Navi Mumbai at all. Social activist Medha Patkar backs Debi Goenka. She says that there is no need for airport in Navi Mumbai and that it is coming only for those who have money. Then there is the cost factor, which is increasing every day. This week other grave concerns have been exposed post the visit of the Central team to the Panvel site. Officials who did not wish to speak on camera stated that if the protect environment interest and do not divert the rivers – then the runways will have to be shifted – but this would mean they will have to compromise on the landing and take-off of flights, which poses a grave safety risk to lives of passengers and if the rivers are diverted but not completely – then a part of the river will be close to runways and might lead to its corrosion besides the threat of flooding that will always loom large on the Panvel airport. But Union Aviation Minister Praful Patel is too adamant on bringing the airport in Navi Mumbai. Which makes one wonder – why? Why is it that the Union Aviation Minister Praful Patel is ignoring all environmental concerns to bring the airport in Navi Mumbai? He continues to favour the present site giving examples of such airports being built in developed countries. Perhaps noted counsel Y P Singh has the answer to this one. In a public meet in Kharghar recently he had said that a major bottleneck for not shifting the airport site from Navi Mumbai is that politicians have invested in land around the airport site and it is their commercial interests that the Union Aviation Ministry is allegedly protecting. Debi Goenka agrees that there are many politicians, who have their own personal interest at stake here. Not just politicians, but private parties too have their interests at stake at the present site. Debi Goenka points out that Reliance is the main beneficiary if the airport comes on the Panvel site. And it is not difficult to understand the influence that the Ambanis have on governments at the Center and State. Who does not remember how Dy. Chief Minister Chagan Bhujbal had said that if the Ambanis were making the Navi Mumbai airport, they would have got all the clearances from the central government and the airport would have been constructed in Navi Mumbai already. After the visit of the Central teams to the Panvel airport site, it is established that if the airport comes in Navi Mumbai – either there will be massive environment destruction that will increase flooding disasters in Panvel and nearby areas or the environment destruction will be reduced but this will put the lives of passengers at risk during take-off and landing of flights. Is the extent to which the Union Aviation Minister is ready to go to bring the airport in Navi Mumbai allegedly only because this serves the interest of a certain lobby of politicians and private commercial interests? Why is that Union Aviation Minister Praful Patel is ignoring all grave concerns in the Navi Mumbai Airport project. Mr. Patel fails to understand that you cannot compare the expertise, technology and accountability of governments in developed countries to that of India that ranks very high on global corruption index and has a history of no top politician being convicted in any scam or made accountable for any action against the interest of the citizens of this nation. With the decision to bring the airport in Navi Mumbai almost being definite, looks like environmentalists and alert citizen are fighting a battle against the commercialized political interests they have lost already. With cameraperson Vinayak Dalvi, Sana Warsia for NMTV News.

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