The long delay in getting started on the Navi Mumbai airport project has been one of the biggest points of friction between the coalition partners ruling Maharashtra — a few years ago, then deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal had in sheer frustration remarked that the airport would have been ready a long time ago if one of the Ambani brothers had been the developer instead of the government. With land acquisition being the constant thorn in the Navi Mumbai airport project’s side, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has been pushing the envelope to bring around the villagers who are still holding out.
The long drawn and often vexatious talks with a group of particularly intransigent villagers had worn out the patience of those negotiating on behalf of the government. Apparently even when an impossible to refuse sweetener was added — an offer to allot around 22 per cent of the developed land to those being displaced with a projected worth of Rs 19 crore per acre in the next two years — even that wasn’t enough to make some farmers budge: apparently they didn’t believe this could be true. The endless back and forth that followed was apparently too much for senior NCP leader and Excise Minister Ganesh Naik — who was also involved in the negotiations — to take with his usual equanimity. We hear that an irritated Naik, who incidentally has quite a reputation in Navi Mumbai, snapped his fingers at one of the more vocal doubters to catch his attention. “Why don’t you sign over the papers to me instead?
You don’t have to wait, come and collect whatever you are due at the rate of Rs 16 crore per acre from me tomorrow itself. Is that okay with you?” It wasn’t, but the stunned protestor and his pals piped down after that exchange. Now with the Civil Aviation ministry giving the go-ahead for inviting private developers, the project is poised to take off in earnest and give the beleaguered Chavan a big reason to smile.