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Mumbai's 31-year-old secret: Juhu airport sitting on land for sports complex

While government proclamations in recent times have held out hope that the much-neglected Juhu aerodrome is set to take off in a big way, actions on the ground — like shutting down of a runway — have been quite contradictory.

Juhu airport

Now, Airports Authority of India (AAI), which has made intentions known of spending a few crores to further develop India’s oldest airport might find the going difficult as the 385 acres of prime real estate on which the aerodrome is situated is notified as land reserved for a public park and sports complex.

Though AAI has on several occasions drawn the government’s attention towards the notification — drawn for the period 1981-2001 and further extended later — the directive still stands.

Airport
Public asset: Though the Airports Authority of India has proposed a plan to further develop India’s oldest airport, it may find the going difficult as the 385 acres of prime real estate on which the aerodrome is situated is notified as land reserved for a public park and sports complex. File pic

A letter from planning department of AAI (copy with MiD DAY) to the western region office of the agency reads, “During the meeting of chairman AAI with chief secretary, Maharashtra at the Mantralaya on 12th of January 2012 and subsequently with chief minister, Maharashtra it was discussed that the Juhu aerodrome be developed to accommodate ATR-72 type aircraft. This would help in decongestion of Mumbai airport.” The civil aviation minister had earlier confirmed to MiD DAY that there is a plan to refurbish the aerodrome so it can accommodate ATRs and hence a runway on stilts extending into Arabian Sea has been proposed (read MiD DAY July 16 article ‘Juhu airport to get a runway on stilts’).

Casting doubts on the fate of this bid and of the aerodrome itself is AAI’s Master Plan, a copy of which was attached to this letter. “The Development Plan (DP) of K west ward of Greater Mumbai city, pertaining to the period 1981-2001, sanctioned by Maharashtra government indicated the location of existing Juhu aerodrome as a public park, sports complex etc. A number of representations have been made to Maharashtra government for de-notification of the same and authorising the said land for airport use,” the communication says. It goes on to say, “The DP of K west ward of Greater Mumbai city 1981-2001 needs to be modified for the land utilisation of Juhu aerodrome to be notified for airport use.”

When the issue of Juhu airport was raised by a member of Parliament, the AAI planning department in an intra-office note (copy with MiD DAY) dated September 12, 2012, maintained that repeated reminders have been sent to the government of Maharashtra to secure the amendment.
“A draft Master Plan proposing preparation of a runway on stilts says the exercise will cost over Rs 3,000 crore. The cost incurred will be shared by AAI and Maharashtra government as the entire development is being overseen by a Maharashtra government-headed task force,” said a top aviation ministry official on condition of anonymity.

The official also revealed that the aforementioned project might not see the light of day due to existing complications. “Since the plot was not notified as airport land by the Maharashtra government in 1981 the proposal may not materialise.

Hundreds of representations have been sent to the government in the last many years but the order remains unchanged. In this very year six-seven meetings on the issue have taken place between AAI and Maharashtra government, but they have failed to work out the problem,” he told MiD DAY.

When contacted, Kalpana Sethi, executive director (planning), AAI, refused to comment on the issue. Juhu airport director M Yadagiri didn’t respond either.

Speaking to MiD DAY, Maharashtra chief secretary Jayant Kumar Banthia said, “When 2014 Development Plan is finalised appropriate reservations will be made. It appears AAI has been sleeping for many years, a reason why it did not take any cognisance of the matter. It is my advice to AAI and Government of India to bring up the issue with the concerned municipal commissioner who is responsible for the upcoming Development Plan.”

However Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is in charge of DP 2014, told this newspaper that necessary changes will be made.
“The DP committee may alter the existing reservations. If that does not happen we will make the modifications when the report comes before us,” said Rahul Shewale, chairman of BMC’s standing committee.

Did you know?
Juhu aerodrome, which was built in 1928, was the country’s first civil aviation airport. In 1948, it was replaced by the much larger Santacruz Airport, which lies about 2 km away.

The aerodrome, which was used during both world wars, lost it charm after the sixties and the Development Plan of the city then showed it as a green zone, later making the aforementioned notification, which never changed.

The 385 acres land was purchased by Government of India on payment of Rs 30 lakh to the Maharashtra government and the property was registered with the name of DGCA, which till date is the titleholder of the land. The airport, which currently has only one operational runway, handles about one hundred chopper operations every day. 

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