The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the decks for construction of an international airport at Mopa in Goa by lifting the suspension on environmental clearance (EC) granted for the project, which would be spread over 2,131 acres.
The top court in March last year had suspended the EC granted for the greenfield airport and directed the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to revisit the decision in light of its impact on the ecology there.
The need for a new airport was buttressed as the passenger traffic at Goa was expected to rise in the upcoming financial years -- 12 million passengers by 2021 to 17.9 million by 2025 -- and the existing airport at Dabolim is a defence establishment which is closed to area traffic between 8.30 am and 1.30 pm daily.
Though Goa is one of the most sought after international tourist destinations in India, international charter flights are not granted parking facilities at night at Dabolim airport due to capacity constraints.
While lifting the suspension on the EC, a bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta noted the assurance tendered on behalf of concessionaire GMR Goa International Airport Limited that it would adopt a "zero-carbon programme" both in the construction and operational phases of the airport.
"We accept the undertaking of the concessionaire and issue a direction for compliance," the bench said, adding, "The suspension on the EC shall accordingly stand lifted."
The top court-appointed the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to oversee compliance with the directions issued by it in the matter and said the "project proponent shall bear the costs, expenses and fees of NEERI".
The GMR Goa International Airport Limited had won the bid for the airport under the build-own-operate and transfer (BOOT) scheme.
The apex court said that its last year judgement had "highlighted numerous deficiencies by the project proponent" leading to grant of EC and had also highlighted the concerns, including preservation of forests, the existence of ecologically sensitive areas with their attendant features and impact of the proposed project on natural water channels.
It noted that the concerns highlighted in the last year verdict were related to the need to preserve the biodiversity of the Western Ghats. "In the proceedings that followed the judgment of this court, the project proponent sought to remedy its failure by taking into account additional information on significant aspects of the environment," the bench said in its verdict.
"In the process leading to the grant of the EC as well as the lifting of its suspension by this court, numerous mitigatory conditions have been imposed on the project proponent," it added.
The court recommended to the Centre that there is a need to ensure the inclusion of persons with specialized knowledge of diverse disciplines in relation to environmental protection in the composition of EAC. The EC was granted to the project on October 28, 2015.
In its judgment, the bench noted the submissions of Attorney General K K Venugopal who had said that construction of an airport at Mopa has been on "drawing board" for nearly two decades and the site for the project was chosen among three options after due examination by the experts.
"The existing airport at Dabolim was intended to serve four million passengers annually while the existing passenger traffic is about 7.5 million annually," he had said.
"Due to capacity constraints, international charter flights are not granted parking facilities at night at Dabolim," he had said, adding, "The proposed greenfield airport will have a capacity to handle 4.4 million passengers in Phase–I, 13 million passengers in Phase–II and 30 million passengers in Phase-III annually."The top court had delivered the last year's verdict while hearing an appeal filed against the National Green Tribunal's August 2018 judgment which had refused to quash the EC for development of the airport at Mopa.