That the Chhatrapati Shivaji airport in Mumbai is about to hit saturation point is not new news. After all, it was exactly this prognosis that led to a search for a site for a new airport, which led to the pinpointing of a Navi Mumbai location. From the civil aviation ministry to the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the project got the backing of various concerned agencies. But what with the chronic Indian affliction of delays and the newly-infectious web of environmental stalling, the new airport simply hasnt taken off. Now, as The Indian Express reported yesterday, the Union civil aviation minister says that the existing airports saturation point will be reached sooner rather than later, perhaps by 2011-end. He is considering a mini-counteractive measurebanning any more turboprop aircraft in the private category to accommodate more commercial flights at Mumbai. Used by the top echelons of the corporate and political class, we are told these turboprops are slower on take-off, therefore delaying the arrival and departure of commercial jets. But constraining these will have little impact on the big picture. Air traffic congestion in Mumbai is such that peak hours run through almost the entire 24-hour cycle. Additional capacity is desperately needed; leave alone the experts, even the lay person is able to recognise the urgency of this need.
The Navi Mumbai location is placed among mangroves. These have ecological significance because they serve as a natural buffer against sea erosion. But expert committees have already suggested how these mangroves can be replanted and regenerated at alternative locations. Mumbai, more than other cities, is well-placed for pulling off such a manoeuvre. The entire marine drive is, after all, built on reclaimed land. A city that could pull of such an engineering feat in years past can surely meet the mangrove challenge facing it today. As our columnists have pointed out, we no longer inhabit a universe where the twin goals of environmental conservation and development was a zero-sum game. Given the monumental advances in science, reconciling infrastructure development with environmentalism is quite practicable now. Political will is key; all else is just an excuse. And Mumbai is Indias commercial capital, accounting for around 40% of the countrys income tax collections. It should be setting the benchmark that smaller business hubs emulate. But instead of building a new airport on super-fast footing (comparable heavy traffic centres like Los Angeles boast complex, multi-airport systems), things seems stuck in dally and pass the buck mode.