New Delhi: The proposed Navi Mumbai airport received a final environmental clearance on Monday, paving the way for construction of the long-delayed facility that will share traffic with the city’s congested Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) starting in 2015.

While greenlighting the Navi Mumbai airport, the ministry rejected plans for expansion of the Juhu airport that was supposed to relieve pressure on CSIA by handling smaller jet planes until the Navi Mumbai airport was ready.

Navi Mumbai airport, already delayed by three years, has been at the centre of a public tussle between environment minister Jairam Ramesh and civil aviation minister Praful Patel.

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“That the airport will be in Navi Mumbai is the biggest compromise. I accepted the location as a fait accompli and that there were no other locations possible," Ramesh said on Monday at a press conference he addressed with Patel and Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.

The fact that more than 70% of the land required for the airport has already been acquired by the state government was one of the key reasons why he took it as fait accompli, Ramesh said.

“It pays to be dogmatic to begin with. We have bargained, negotiated and compromised to ensure a state-of-the-art airport from an environmental point of view," he said. “If they want, they can start construction of the airport from today... From an environmental point of view, this has been a very major compromise that has been reached."

At the same time, Ramesh rejected plans to expand the Juhu airport, saying he had requested the aviation minister to develop it as a green lung for Mumbai city. No construction will be allowed at the site, he said.

At Juhu, the airport runway needs to be expanded to be able to take the burden of more jets, and state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI) that manages the facility had recently appointed consulting firm KPMG to submit a report on how the expansion, which could have required the airstrip to jut into the sea, can be undertaken.

Robey Lal, a retired board member (operations and planning) of AAI, welcomed the decision on the Juhu airport.

“The issue is that it would have caused noise problems to the community; it would have meant extending the runway over the beach into the sea," he said. “It would result in additional traffic problems. In addition, it would also raise issues of safety."

In the past, there have been cases of large commercial aircraft mistaking the Juhu facility for CSIA, Lal noted, adding: “Extending the runway would increase the probability of such instances being repeated."

In terms of the environment, 678ha of mangroves will be replanted while 98ha will be lost forever. Instead of two rivers being diverted for the project as per the original design, only one will need to be diverted.

Non-essential airport facilities will be shifted and 245ha of mangroves will be developed by the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (Cidco) in a park. Some 310ha will be declared as a “no-development" zone. Nearly 3,000 families will have to be relocated to make way for the airport.

“Environment minister Ramesh, after taking a strident stand initially, has been easing his position on environmental issues in recent weeks, thus giving ample evidence of the clout that civil aviation minister enjoys in the government," said retired Air India executive director Jitender Bhargava.

He added that the new airport should, however, be welcomed as CSIA cannot grow any further. “The import of various constraints imposed by the environment minister will also be fully apparent only when one gets the airport up and running," he said.

The Rs8,722 crore Navi Mumbai airport, to be developed in four phases, may see its first two phases combined to make up for the delay in project execution. It will be developed through a public-private partnership in which the private sector entity will hold 74%, and Cidco and AAI will have a 13% stake each, much on the lines of the Hyderabad and Bangalore airport projects.

Chavan said the bidding process for the project will be completed over the next 12 months.

Because of congestion at CSIA, planes have to hover over the airport during peak hours for at least 30 minutes currently before they receive permission to land. Chavan said the new airport will help save Rs2,250 crore every year wasted as a result of the extra fuel burnt by airlines.