Mumbai: The Navi Mumbai airport may not start operations by the end of next year as expected by the Maharashtra government, said two people familiar with the project. Factors such as rehabilitating hundreds of people displaced by the project and pre-development work may result in the airport opening only by 2020-21, the people, which includes a civil aviation ministry official, told Mint, on condition of anonymity.

The Navi Mumbai International Airport is being developed under a public-private partnership (PPP) model between GVK Group subsidiary Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) and City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (CIDCO) as the project implementation agency. The project is located in an area spread across 1,160 ha comprising a river, several smaller water bodies and hills.

There are also 10 recognized villages in the vicinity and a few unrecognized villages.

The Navi Mumbai airport, a much-delayed project, was first proposed in 1997 as a secondary airport to support the busy Mumbai airport. Estimated to cost 3,000 crore, the Navi Mumbai airport received the government’s approval only in 2007. It, however, got delayed due to issues over acquiring land, securing government approvals, including environmental clearance.

“According to the concession agreement (signed by stakeholders in January 2018) for the development of the airport, the first stage of the airport is to be completed by 2021," said one of the above mentioned people.

“A large chunk of pre-development work is yet to be completed. It’s very tough to complete one runway and operationalize a terminal there in 16-17 months," the person said.

He said the government in Maharashtra, which is heading for elections next year, wants to complete the Navi Mumbai airport ahead of December 2019 to showcase it as one of its achievements.

Despite the ongoing slowdown, a spokesman for CIDCO said the agency is on track to complete at least a terminal and a runway by the end of 2019.

A GVK spokesperson was not available for comment.

A CIDCO official said the state government-backed agency expects the first phase of airport to be completed by end of 2019. He said, however, only 1,100 of the 2,800 affected people who are living in the vicinity of the airport area have been shifted to rehabilitated plots offered by the state.

Meanwhile, several affected people are holding up to receive more benefits from the government to vacate their lands, while some are not ready to relinquish their lands.

As a result, a large chunk of pre-development work that includes blasting hills and hillocks and diverting the Ulwe river besides filling up water bodies and levelling of land are also yet to be completed. The ongoing monsoon rains have also slowed development work.

Aviation secretary R.N. Choubey had in May reiterated that it was tough to meet the 2019 deadline for starting operations at the Navi Mumbai airport.

CIDCO’s joint managing director, Prajakta Lavangare, who is overseeing the project says that despite the tight deadline, the agency has been meeting time-defined targets and is inching towards its objective.

The agency has completed filling of 60-70 hectares in the southern runway area of the airport, close to Kohli, Kopar and Owale villages,, he said.

“We will complete the pre-development work by December 2018," Lavangare said adding most of the affected people in the villages of Chinchpada, Kolhi, Kopar, where the southern part of the runway is to be located, have vacated.

Lavangare said while a majority of people Waghvali Wada, Owale/ Warche have vacated, others are expected to leave by September.

CIDCO, which is facing challenges in acquiring land in the villages of Kombadbhuj, Targhar, Ganeshpuri and Ulwe, located in northern and northwestern part of the airport, would make renewed efforts after the monsoons.

Villagers in the vicinity of the airport project, who haven’t moved on, said they face an uncertain future.

Anjali Dhamale lives in Chinchpada village, where her family grows rice. Her family consisting of 11 members, including men, women and children, work in the farm and also rear chicken and fish.

“We are used to working in the fields," Dhamale said adding, “We are not sure what occupation to take up after leaving this place."

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