Besides displacing thousands of people, the proposed Navi Mumbai international airport is expected to destroy local mangrove and wetland ecosystems.
3,500 families displaced
Approximately 3,500 families residing in 10 villages are being displaced a new airport in Navi Mumbai. They have sustained a long-term struggle for fair rehabilitation, according to GAAM (Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement).
A perfunctory one-hour public hearing held on 5th May 2010 was boycotted by residents of all the affected villages. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not made public and people from the affected villages stood outside waving black flags in protest, demanding due compensation, states Down To Earth.
Construction before relocation
Pre-construction work on the airport site began in October 2017, even though villagers had not relocated to the resettlement areas. A major protest by residents of six villages on 12th October 2017 brought pre-construction work on the airport site to a halt. Families still living on the site resolved to remain in their homes until the plots of land allocated for resettlement were developed. On 27th October, it was announced that work on the Navi Mumbai Airport site would resume under heavy police protection, reports The Times of India.
Explosives were being set off three times per day, loosening the ground in order to cut and level Ulwe hill to make way for the airport runway. Blasting as little as 100 metres from people’s homes sent stones flying distances of up to 200 metres, including into a nearby school.
In November 2017 some PAPs alleged that records proving their land ownership had been destroyed by CIDCO. In November 2017, two thousand residents of the villages of Targhar, Pargaon, Ulwe, Kolhi, Kopar, Ganesh Puri, Chinchpada, Dungi and Manghar gathered to step up their demands for fair compensation and rehabilitation from CIDCO. The villagers united their struggles to form a new organization: Navi Mumbai International Airport Affected Peoples, which will take up their demands with CIDCO.
Injury and risk
On 6th January 2018 five engineers working in the site were injured, two of them severely, hit by falling rocks during supposedly ‘controlled’ blasting work, reported the Mumbai edition of daily newspaper, DNA. Villagers in Siddhart Nagar suffered injuries too; five women were bruised by stones coming through their roofs of their homes and a seven-year old boy who had been playing outside his house needed two stitches to his head.
On 13th February 2018 hundreds of residents of Pargaon, one of the villages neighbouring Navi Mumbai Airport site, held a protest march saying landfilling works put them at risk of flooding.
Biodiverse wildlife habitats encompassed within the site will be destroyed: 121 hectares of forest, 162 hectares of mangroves and 404 hectares of mudflats, states another Times of India report. Concerns that replacing waterlogged areas that soak up excess water with impermeable concrete and tarmac will disrupt the water balance in the wider region and make the surrounding area more susceptible to flooding were raised in 2010.
A study conducted by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) showed that airport operations are likely to impinge upon bird habitats over a wide area of coastline, creeks, mangroves and inland wetlands. BNHS showed an estimated 266 bird species within a 10 km radius of the airport site, including the Karnala Bird Sanctuary.
A mangrove sanctuary, on land bordering the airport, to mitigate against the destruction of mangroves was proposed, but abandoned due to the risk of bird strikes, collisions with aircraft that can cause fatal accidents.
In February 2018, Vanashakti, an NGO focused on forest, mangrove and wetland protection, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) claiming that failure to comply with environmental clearance requirements to replace mangrove habitats meant that conditions for starting the airport project has not been met, reports MoneyControl.com. Vanashatki also stated that blasting of Ulwe hill had commenced without adhering to environmental rules.
By January 2019 the majority of the villagers had taken up CIDCO’s resettlement scheme and vacated their homes but a number of residents of Ganeshpuri, Targhar, Ulwe and Kombadbhuje villages still resisted eviction and remained in their homes.