The Price of Progress

Story by Himanshi Dahiya

Rekha Parshuram Madvi is concerned. The tea stall she’s been running for 25 years, from her home in a roadside shanty, is her only means of income. But her family, like more than 3000 other people in the area, has lost its land to the construction of the nearby Navi-Mumbai international airport. 

This 160 billion rupee project – the first within India’s urban multi-airport system – is generating serious problems in terms of human displacement and environmental damage, all in the name of development. 

“They have promised us a house in a township in Dapoli, half a kilometre from the airport and to rent payments for 18 months,” Rekha says. 

“However, with our land gone, we will have no income to run that house.” 

While many families have already left the villages of Kombadbhuj, Targhar, Ganeshpuri and Ulwe, those like Rekha, who refuse to move without a better resettlement deal, face a multitude of problems including access to water, electricity and schooling. 

For example, residents are forced to pay tankers 200 rupees for 250 litre supply; and children must walk two or three kilometres daily to go to school, because local schools have been shut down. 

Urbanisation also comes at an ecological cost and the Navi-Mumbai airport project is no exception. 

With about 121 hectares of forest, 162 ha of mangroves and 404 ha of mudflats earmarked for destruction, Mumbai stands to lose vast tracts of unique wildlife habitat.

The Navi-Mumbai airport is just one of many developments built with what appears to be a complete insensitivity to the environment.

According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai, “more than 50% of the airport area falls in the shallow mud abutting the creek and the entire land is required to be developed to a safe level. The northern side of the airport will be abutting the Panvel Creek which is calm and sheltered area.” 

The report also claims that the course of the Ulwe River will be re-routed and the Ghadi River will be re-channelled. 

Critics say the Navi-Mumbai International Airport Limited group has consciously ignored environmental concerns; and note that despite a 2005 Bombay High Court ruling preventing the Maharashtra government from allowing further mangrove destruction, and a second ruling in 2012 banning the conversion of wetlands in the Western Province, the construction of Mumbai’s second international airport is in full swing. 

They argue the abandoned Kalyan Airstrip at Naveli could be redeveloped with minimum environmental damage and human displacement, but say the decicion to forge ahead with the Navi-Mumbai project reflects the vested interests of builder-lobbyists hand-in-glove with government authorities, while the environment and the city’s poor – including school kids who walk two kilometres to class every day and tea-sellers who lose their livelihoods – pay the price.

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