Villagers want Rs 60,000 crore for airport land

With Cabinet's approval to new land bill, project-affected people in Navi Mumbai get new bargaining chip, demand six times the compensation

The Cabinet's clearance to the new Land Acquisition Bill on September 5 has once again cast a shadow on the proposed international airport in Navi Mumbai.

Upping the ante: Villagers want to be compensated as per the new land
bill, but CIDCO joint director Tanaji Satre is sure to see the project through

Around 6,000 villagers, who collectively own over 1,000 acres of land earmarked for the airport, are demanding six times the present market value for their plots, as suggested in the proposed Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 passed by the Union Cabinet last week. The significantly improved compensation has triggered anxiety that the pet project of CIDCO, already delayed, may not take off anytime soon.

According to real estate experts, the current market price of an acre of land in the area is anything between Rs 5 crore and Rs 10 crore. So if CIDCO were to pay up in keeping with the bill, it would end up shelling out something between Rs 30,000 crore (5x6x1000) and Rs 60,000 crore (10x6x1000), excluding the cost of rehabilitating the project-affected people (PAP).

How would an agency, with a market value of Rs 8,000 crore, shell out the staggering amount for completing a Rs-10,000-crore project?

CIDCO joint director Tanaji Satre, speaking exclusively with MiD DAY, said, "If the legislature passes the bill in its current form, the project cost will increase significantly. But that won't derail the project, as we are committed to complete it at any cost."

He continued, "We are yet to take a call on whether Panvel comes under the rural or the urban category.

Urban land requires one to pay double the market price of the plot, which significantly decreases the compensation demanded by the villagers. We are already in talks with PAP representatives and hope to sort out the issues with them in the next couple of months."

The CIDCO has been trying to reach an agreement with the villagers for the past year, but hasn't made headway so far. So what makes the joint director think he will be able to reach an amiable solution this time?

"See, the best thing about this project is that people or land owners are not against it. They are willing to give away land to CIDCO, but there are certain differences of opinion," he said.

Paying in kind
"Paying such a huge sum of money only for acquiring a third of the project land (CIDCO needs 3,000 acres for the airport of which 2,000 acres already belong to it) is too taxing. So we are working on some other formulas such a land-for-land deal. We plan to provide them developed land adjacent to the plot as per the rehabilitation bill, instead of paying them in cash."

The land-for-land deal seems to strike the right chord with the villagers. "We don't have a problem if the state offers us developed land around the airport. We won't even ask for the money then," said RC Gharat, a negotiator for the villagers. He added, "Otherwise, we want to be compensated as per the new land acquisition bill."

But the land exchange process will be time-consumingĀ -- if it is possible at all in a city pressed for spaceĀ -- and may delay the project even more.

Satre is determined not to let monetary problems stand in the way of the project. "Let me assure you that the airport will be completed as it is an ambitious project, not only of CIDCO, but of the state. As and when it is required we will seek intervention of the chief minister. The government is keeping close tabs on each and every development and we are committed to see it through."

Meanwhile, according to CIDCO officials, they have prepared a Request For Qualification (RFQ) document for the project, paving the way for starting the bidding process. When the government invites tenders for the construction, companies with a net worth of more than $369 million, and an experience in developing such infrastructure, will be preferred.

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