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Mumbai airport transformed but slum dwellers face eviction

Mumbai airport transformed but slum dwellers face eviction Ian Fraser

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Arriving in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, by plane has long been a disagreeable experience. The international facilities at the City's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport are decrepit, overcrowded and chaotic. Passengers are faced with interminable queues for immigration, a scrum to pick up their baggage and further delays at customs. There have even been reports of “mosquito swarms” in the departures.

That is set to change later this month when a new £2 billion international terminal opens to replace the existing clapped out facilities. The new terminal, dubbed “T2”, sports 208 check-in desks, 60 departure immigration counters and more than 21,000 square meters of retail space. With an annual passenger capacity of 40m, T2 can handle five million more passengers a year than Heathrow Terminal 5, the Richard Rogers-designed terminal which was completed in 2008.

The airport's owners, GVK Power & Infrastructure, a division of Hyderabad-based conglomerate GVK, hopes it swanky and spacious new terminal, designed by Chicago-based architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, will transform CSIA into a global hub to rival the likes of Heathrow, Frankfurt or Singapore. India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has been trumpeting the $2bn project as boosting India's standing in the world, and proving that his government is capable of addressing India’s infrastructural weaknesses. Opinion polls suggest that Singh is at risk of losing power to opposition leader Narendra Modi in elections scheduled for May.

Sanjay Reddy, GVK’s ebullient vice-chairman told the James Crabtree of the Financial Times that the project is the most significant addition to Mumbai’s infrastructure since a new railway station was opened to coincide with Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887 – which speaks volumes about the lack of major infrastructure work in Mumbai over the past 127 years!

GVK had to demolish 100 buildings including a police station before construction could begin. And because of a restricted site that remains hemmed in by slums, the company built the new terminal upwards, to a height of 45 metres, and across four floors. GVK and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill pushed the boat out where design is concerned. From afar, the new terminal looks like a U.F.O on stilts. The central hall includes giant pillars inspired by the feathers of India’s national bird – the peacock. According to James Crabtree in the FT the main hall also features natural lighting inspired by ancient Mughal palaces, A 3.2km long “art wall” spans three of the terminals floors and is decorated with a montage of 7,000 Indian artefacts, including doors, sculptures, other artwork and even a section made out of mud and cow dung from a traditional village.

Roger Duffy, a partner at Skidmore said: "We designed an airport that is intimately connected to its surroundings. By subtly incorporating regional patterns and textures at all scales, Terminal 2 resonates with a sense of place and serves as a spectacular symbol for India and Mumbai."

Writing to his one million plus followers on Twitter, Anand Mahindra, chairman of India's biggest sports utility vehicle manufacturer, Mahindra & Mahindra, raved about the artwork that adorns the "art wall", attaching several photos.

But challenges remain for GVK. These include that it is now so heavily indebted some commentators predict it will be forced to sell part of all of the airport. CSIA currently also has only two runways which bisect each other, reducing their utility. According to Bloomberg, GVK will struggle to build new runways since almost one sixth of CSIA's 802 hectares of land is currently occupied by slums. The airport is working on plan to relocate the inhabitants from 65,000 shanties. That could take time – and cause hostility.

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Tags: Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport , emerging markets , Financial Times , Frankfurt , GVK , Heathrow , India , India economy , Indian economy , Indian investments , infrastructure , infrastructure investment , infrastructure investments , Kingfisher Airlines , Manmohan Singh , Mumbai , Owings & Merrill , Singapore , Skidmore , transportation
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