Pre-development work on the Rs 16,000-crore Navi Mumbai airport began on Thursday.
The environment ministry had granted its approval for pre-development activities in April, but City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) had to put work on hold twice because of resistance from villagers affected by the project.
Cidco managed to get around most of the opposition on Wednesday and began work on the airport. Two of the 10 affected villages are still not on board.
On Cidco’s immediate agenda are flattening a hillock, reclaiming marsh land and diverting a river. On Thursday, it began constructing temporary roads from the hillock to the reclamation site and started preparations for hill-cutting.
Pre-development work is expected to take two years, though Cidco aims to complete it in 18 months. The onset of the monsoon is a cause for concern as heavy showers could delay the project.
Cidco has set May 2020 as the launch date for the airport, but Alexandre De Junaic, chief executive officer of the International Air Transport Association, said last week the airport was unlikely to be ready before 2022.
The hillock in the airport area will be flattened and the rocks will be used to reclaim marsh land at the site. Around 35 million cubic metres of rock-fill will be needed for the reclamation and the height of the hillock will be reduced from 91 metres to 8 metres.
A trial blast will be carried out to obtain rock fragments of a particular size to be used in reclamation.
Cidco has engaged the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research to design the hill-cutting operation and its team will supervise work. “We will place seismographs in the area to monitor ground vibration. Water will be sprinkled regularly to minimise dust,” a Cidco official said.
Over the next few days, work will also begin to divert the Ulwe river, which passes through airport land. The riverbed will be excavated and a 3.2-km stretch will be channeled outside the boundary.
Cidco hopes to complete the river diversion before the next monsoon. Other works include shifting power transmission lines.
The airport area covers 1,180 hectares and pre-development work has been divided among three contractors in four different areas.
Work in the Ulwe-Targhar area commenced today. This is also the area where Cidco is facing the least resistance.
“We have hired dumpers and machinery from the villages,” said Ramsheth Thakur, founder of Thakur Infraprojects, one of the firms contracted.
Of the 10 affected villages, two at the east of the hillock are still opposing the project and work will not begin in their area. “There are over 300 houses in the village and Cidco has earmarked 200 plots for resettlement,” said Ganesh Gharat, a resident of Varche-Owale, one of the two villages not on board.
While the villagers are not against the airport, they want Cidco to fulfill rehabilitation promises. Last week, a committee comprising leaders of the 10 villages met Cidco Managing Director Bhushan Gagrani with their demands. These pertain to plots and rent to be given to villagers in lieu of demolition of their homes.
“We are willing to support Cidco if our demands are met. Some of the issues are pending for long. Villagers should not be blamed for the project delay,” said Sanjay Patil, secretary of the committee.
One such demand was met on Wednesday when Cidco held a lottery to allot 235 plots. Initially Cidco had said a family would be entitled to one plot in lieu of their home, this had to be revised because many families have more than one home. Compensation with regard to house size and cowsheds, too, has been addressed.
“The committee has not objected to the start of work. We have accepted their demands,” Gagrani said. He added it was unfair that Cidco alone had to make all the compromises.
The work being done in the first phase is on government land, and Cidco officials said villagers were not affected by it in any way. “We are not demolishing private property,” Gagrani said.