Navi Mumbai airport comes closer after PM's assurances

The standoff between the Maharashtra government and the union environment ministry came a step closer to being resolved on Friday, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assuring a delegation led by chief minister Ashok Chavan (See: Chavan-led team meeting PM over Navi Mumbai airport today) that he would look into the issue personally and clear it at the earliest.

Chavan told newspersons that the prime minister, stressing that nothing should come in the way of Mumbai's development, had promised the delegation that he would ''personally look into the matter.'' Singh also noted that ''Mumbai is of paramount importance to the country. I appreciate that a new airport is a necessity,'' Chavan said.

The delegation explained that Mumbai urgently needed a second airport and that restructuring and expanding the existing one would not suffice. The Mumbai airport, which currently handles 26 million passengers annually, will have to cope with a projected traffic flow of 45 million passengers by 2014-2015 and 119 million by 2031-2032.

Parrying questions on whether minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh's approach posed a problem, Chavan said he had met the minister thrice, and that the state was prepared to do what was needed to protect the environment in the airport project area at Navi Mumbai.

The delegation's meeting with Singh came a day after the state government, after consultations with experts in the aviation ministry and the centre's hydraulic department, decided to exclude 160 hectares of Waghivali village, which abuts the Panvel Creek and the Gadhi and Ulve rivers north of the airport site, from the proposed area.

It has also agreed to regenerate and maintain the dense mangrove forest which will not be included in the proposed airport.