New Mumbai airport gets environmental clearance

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A long-delayed project to build a second international airport in India’s commercial hub of Mumbai took a big step forward on Monday after it received clearance from the country’s environment minister.

Ending months of wrangling between India’s environment and civil aviation ministries, the approval imposes 32 stipulations to ensure the area surrounding the estimated $220 million project is protected.

The approval was necessary for construction to begin on the project in Navi Mumbai, seen as vital to the city’s status as an international commercial center with a passenger crunch looming at the current airport.

Overhauling India’s creaking infrastructure is seen as crucial to continued economic growth, with the country targeting increased private investment and a doubling in infrastructure spending to $1 trillion in the five years starting in 2012.

The civil aviation ministry and local Maharashtra government have pushed hard in recent months to ensure environmental clearance was granted for the airport, which will be funded through a public-private partnership.

“Today, formally the environmental clearance has been given to the Navi Mumbai Project. The provisions of building the airport will start today,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told a press conference in New Delhi.

“From an environmental point of view, this has been a very major compromise that has been reached.”

A tough environment ministry stance has stalled many big-ticket projects such as a $12 billion mining project by South Korean steel maker POSCO, and sparked criticism of Ramesh from businesses and officials pushing for rapid industrialization.

Under the terms of the agreement for the Navi Mumbai airport, the river Gadhi will not be diverted and 678 hectares of mangrove plantation will be developed around the new site to replace 161 hectares that will be destroyed during construction.

“We will take every step to ensure environment norms are followed,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said.

The new airport, first approved by the government in 2007 to reduce the burden on the existing Chattrapati Shivaji airport, is reportedly expected to handle 40 million passengers when fully operational in 2030.

Reporting by Henry Foy; Editing by Aradhana Aravindan