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Asia

Controversy over new Mumbai airport rages on

A new airport is being planned in the outskirts of the Indian megacity Mumbai but many environmental activists are against the plans. The government has yet to give its final approval.

20 million people land at Chattrapath Shivaji International in Mumbai annually

20 million people land at Chattrapath Shivaji International in Mumbai annually

Every year, 20 million people land at Chattrapathi Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai.

The airport technically needs to be developed to accommodate the growing number of passengers. However, it cannot be expanded because it is surrounded by slums where thousands of people live.

Therefore, the Mumbai authorities have decided to build another airport in the city's outskirts. If plans go ahead, the new airport will be able to accommodate 40 million passengers a year by 2030.

India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel (L)

India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel (L)

New airport will destroy mangroves

However, many environmentalists are against the project as it will entail the destruction of 400 acres of mangroves and the diversion of two rivers.

"Mangroves are very special for Mumbai because they cover the entire coastline," Stalin Dayanand of the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust told Deutsche Welle.

"These mangroves are the first barriers for any kind of natural disaster like a tsunami or a flood. They basically interact as a wall between the sea and the city."

Moreover, he added, "there are a lot of farmers in that region and they will have to relocate. They are giving up their independence, their livelihoods and their culture. The government has never paid any attention to these coastal communities and the farmers."

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is against the airport in Navi Mumbai

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is against the airport in Navi Mumbai

Jairam Ramesh, the Indian environment minister, has said that it is important that these "serious ecological issues" be addressed before clearance is given to the new airport in Navi Mumbai.

Good for Mumbai's local economy

However, the aviation minister Praful Patel has argued that the project is very important for the fast-growing megacity. He thinks the location is perfect as it is well-connected to Pune thanks to the express highway.

He fears that the delay is harming Mumbai's local economy. The supporters of the proposed airport say that they will replant the mangrove forests.

But environmentalists worry that the rich biodiversity of these wetlands cannot be recreated. 40 percent of the mangrove forests in Mumbai have already been destroyed.

They are calling for the airport to be built elsewhere. "There are plenty of alternatives," Stalin Dayanand explained.

"It's just that this airport is being developed for Western interests. The problem is the lack of political will and a lack of concern for the environment. We will do everything to fight it."

The fight goes on as India's government has yet to give its full approval to the $1.9 billion (1.5 billion euros) project.

Author: Julia Thienhaus
Editor: Anne Thomas

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