Cost of an airport

Story by Navashree Nandini

Tucked away inside a small clearing, on the edge of a narrow dusty road in what is left of Ulwe village, Pallavi Jadhav fills a large aluminum pot with water, from a cracked pipeline. 

The pipeline has all the hallmarks of a makeshift supply – a bit of rubber hose stuck to a supply line poking out of the ground. With no tap to regulate the flow, the water gushes out collecting in muddy pools all around Jhadhav’s feet.

She fills the pots while waiting for her two children to come home from school. Her husband works at a shop in Navi Mumbai, she says, and she also takes care of her in-laws. She is one of about 3000 villagers from ten villages – Ulwe, Chinchpada, Kolhi, Kopar, Owle, Varche-Owle, Pargaaon-Dungi, Targhar, Kombadbhuje and Waghivli Vada – who were pushed out of their homes into makeshift tenements to make way for the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport. Even here her family lives in constant fear of losing their temporary home.

A stone’s throw from Jhadhav’s hut, Rekha Parshuram Madvi runs a small shop selling an assortment of chocolates, cakes, chips and tea. A 250l barrel full of water, which she bought for Rs 200, stands at the entrance. Madvi says she had been living in her village for 25 years. 

Dressed in a blue print saree, she is eager to tell her story. Having lost her husband and son few years ago, the little shop on the edge of Mumbai’s largest development is her means of survival.

She is confident she will not have to leave the shop once the airport is built, but it is hard to imagine international tourists milling about her makeshift tea stall.

“I have also attended a 15-day workshop, conducted by CIDCO, to learn how to display items and run the store,” she says. 

But, her confidence wavers as she explains that six months after the workshop, she has still not been allotted new land for her home or shop.

A ONCE thriving wetland forest  turned to a barren land (Photo by Dylan Crawford)

The Navi Mumbai International Airport, is slowly taking shape on what was once 1,160 hectares of fishing villages on the edge of a mangrove forest. It is yet another ambitious development project in a city that is no stranger to massive infrastructure work – this time it is a public-private partnership (PPP) between Hyderabadi millionaire Gunupati Venkata Krishna Reddy’s GVK Group, Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) and the  City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Limited (CIDCO). 

A March 2014 rehabilitation and resettlement incentive scheme promises Rs 1500 per square foot for every house reclaimed for the airport in addition to Rs 500 per square foot of every house vacated before March 31, 2014; Rs 300 per square foot for those vacating before April 30; and Rs 100 per square foot for those vacating before May 31. 

The compensation package also promised each displaced household a maintenance allowance of Rs 36,000, Rs 124,500 for construction, a transport allowance of Rs 50,000 and ten 100 rupee shares of the newly established airport company. 

Many people have already taken the offer and left, but a small knot of 56 families continues to live perched on the side of an embankment on the edge of the construction site. 

They are the last people from the villages that once dotted the area. Some hope CIDCO will give them better compensation, others like Madvi hope that once the airport comes, they will be given a job.  

GOING about the daily chores, a woman collecting water in the makeshift community along the development (Photo by Dylan Crawford).

Ulwe village is made up of two communities: Ganeshpuri – a traditional fishing community; and Siddharthnagar. The residents of Siddharthnagar, who settled in the area after 2012, say CIDCO claims they are not eligible for compensation. They accuse the Development Corporation of using underhanded techniques such as blowing the roofs off their houses, shifting the local Marathi medium school kilometres away from the village and threatening to demolished their houses at any time without warning. The locals are apprehensive of outsiders, suspecting they may be CIDCO officials. 

Despite repeated promises of fair compensation, Siddharathnagar resident Ganeshiyan Keni, 57, says, nothing has been paid so far. 

“People of Ganeshpuri were given 18 months rent and a plot kilometres away from here. We were not offered compensation because, they say our land was not recognised on Google (Google Maps).” 

“If you know someone from CIDCO, tell them to not threaten our life, we are already living near blasting sites,” he says imploring. 

Pallavi Jhadhav looks up at a group of children returning from school merrily singing songs and teasing each other. Their blue tunics, white shirts and maroon ties contrast sharply against the dust covered landscape. 

What was once a vast mangrove forest is now a construction site covered in dust. Villagers of a once thriving community, now perched on the edge of a small embankment, watch with apprehension as bulldozers, diggers and convoys of pickup trucks churn clouds of dust as they bound past their home throughout the day. 

Jhadhav’s youngest daughter runs towards her mother who is filling the last of her pots. Realising her mother is not alone the small child blushes and hides behind her mother’s veil, but she quick to answer “Police banungi, sabko goli mar dungi.” “I will be a police, I will shoot everyone”, when asked about her plans for the future.

Behind their house, the hills echo with the sound of rock blasting. It’s driven away wildlife and whole villages.

Even the local temple carved into a rock face surrounding a natural spring is deserted – it seems even the gods have abandoned their land.


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