Top half of Taj at Mumbai airport to remain shut over security concerns

Top three floors of the five-star hotel will remain closed until the short-staffed CISF can deploy guards there; authorities think the direct view of the runway is a threat

There’s disappointment in store for visitors to the new Santacruz Taj Hotel if they’re looking forward to the unique view of flights taking off and landing from Mumbai airport. With the runway just a stone’s throw away, what was to be the five-star’s USP, is a security concern for the airport and the reason why the top three floors of the hotel are yet to be opened to the public.

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The five-star hotel was partially launched on January 16, with the first three floors opened to the public. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The five-star hotel was partially launched on January 16, with the first three floors opened to the public. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Work on Taj GVK’s Rs 110-crore luxury hotel began in 2011, and ran into several delays due to the requirement of permission from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). It was finally launched on January 16, but only the first three floors of the 6-storey hotel have been opened, due to security concerns. Over 50 spots have been identified inside and in the periphery of the airport-side hotel that need to be secured by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).

At the moment, the view from the hotel doesn’t get better than this — as can be seen, the third floor windows do not have a direct glimpse of the tarmac
At the moment, the view from the hotel doesn’t get better than this — as can be seen, the third floor windows do not have a direct glimpse of the tarmac

Short-staffed
However, at a time when the airport is on high alert and is facing a shortage of security personnel, the CISF finds itself unable to deploy any manpower at the hotel. At present, Mumbai airport is manned by 4,000 CISF personnel but needs an additional 700. The agency can only deploy personnel at the hotel if it receives additional manpower from Delhi.

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A senior CISF official explained, “After a survey, we identified more than 50 locations that need security arrangement at the hotel. However, it is only after the approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs that CISF personnel can be deployed there, and until then, the hotel cannot commence services on the remaining floors, especially those facing the runway.”

The rectangular building has two sides, one facing the cityside and the other the airside of the airport. The first three floors are now open to all public — whether they are fliers or not. These floors comprise rooms, restaurants, lounge bars and a pool (third floor, airside), but have no clear view of the tarmac. It is the upper three floors that are a concern for the authorities, particularly on the airside, with the tarmac just 150 metres away. Besides having the CISF guards, the rooms will be fitted with bullet-proof windows on the upper floors.

Though Taj insists that the luxury hotel will be fully operational by March, airport officials said there was no clarity on the issue. “When the hotel was first proposed and planned, there was a fair idea that its proximity to the airport could be an issue but this was probably taken lightly. Now that the BCAS has raised security concerns, there have been various talks regarding security deployments but no conclusion. Hence one cannot be assured of the CISF being deployed in the hotel,” said an airport official.

Hotel speak
A Taj spokesperson said, “Taj Santacruz is planned to launch in two phases. 141 rooms, the all-day restaurant, Tiqri, and the French-Italian restaurant, Rivea, have been launched in the first phase and we are accepting reservations. The balance 138 rooms and the Chinese restaurant, China Inc, will launch in the second phase before March. As of now, the first three floors of the hotel are operational and completion of work is underway on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors. Owing to the proximity to the airport, the CISF is proposed to take over the security of the hotel in due course of time, in compliance with the guidelines given by BCAS.”

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