Mumbai needs to find a way to match the promise of its growth with the on-the-ground reality for many of its residents.
India’s federal government has asked officials in Mumbai for a plan to evict 90,000 slum dwellers living around the airport after terrorist attacks on airfields in Pakistan, a person familiar with the proposal said.
The civil aviation minister has written to the Maharashtra state government asking it to relocate and rehouse those living by the airport, according to an aviation ministry official, who asked not to be identified as the information isn’t public. The security threat to the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport from the slum is grave, the official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is looking at terror threats to aviation more closely after the Taliban attacked Karachi’s airport in early June killing 36 people and later that month gunmen fired on a plane coming to land in Peshawar, killing one passenger. Evicting slum-dwellers in India’s financial capital has always been contentious, however, and past efforts at the airport have had little success.
“There will always be resistance, and relocation, if it happens, won’t be quick either,” Uday Athavankar, a professor at the Industrial Design Centre at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, said yesterday in a phone interview. “To move people is never easy when they have built their community in that area.”
The slums occupy about 309 acres (125 hectares) of land around the airport and have restricted the expansion of the facility.
Uday Moray, a spokesman for India’s civil aviation ministry, did not respond to two calls to his mobile phone. Mumbai airport spokesman Vaibhav Tiwari also did not respond to calls seeking comment. Aniruddha Ashtaputre, a spokesman for the Maharashtra government, whose capital is Mumbai, did not have an immediate comment.
Taliban fighters killed 36 people at Karachi’s international airport in June and warned foreign investors, airlines and multinational companies to stop operating in Pakistan. A month later, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine after being possibly hit by a missile, underlining threats to aviation safety around the world.
Al-Qaeda said last week it plans to conduct operations in India as well as work to end what leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called the suffering of Muslims throughout South Asia, including Kashmir, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Security has been tightened across Indian airports after al-Qaeda’s announcement, the person said. Indian officials held a meeting to review the security situation in airports this week, the person said.
GVK Power & Infrastructure Ltd. and its partners took over running the Mumbai airport in 2006 as part of government plans to modernize India’s transportation networks. The company demolished about 100 buildings, including a police station, to construct a new passenger terminal that cost about 55 billion rupees ($904 million) and opened earlier this year.
Years of efforts to clear the tin-roofed shanties that surround the Mumbai airfield hit a road block last year when a company tasked with the job had its project terminated, prompting a court battle. A 17-year-old plan to build a second airport in the city has gone nowhere.
The city itself is home to some 6.5 million slum dwellers, or more than half its population, according to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority. They live without running water, private toilets and basic sanitation.
Air traffic to Mumbai, India’s busiest airport after New Delhi, will more than triple to 100 million passengers a year by 2030, according to estimates by the Maharashtra government. Unless the airport can expand using the land where slums exist now, the airport will become saturated in “very near future,” Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju wrote in a July letter to the Maharashtra government. Bloomberg News obtained has a copy of the letter.
India ranks 61 in quality of air transport infrastructure, behind Ethiopia, and 62 in efficiency of legal framework in settling disputes, behind Ghana, according to Global Competitiveness Report released by the World Economic Forum last week.
–With assistance from Bhuma Shrivastava in Mumbai.
Photo credit: Exterior of Mumbai's airport. Chris Hoare / Flickr