Mumbai’s New Peacock

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The city’s new state-of-the-art terminal, T2, is to start operations on 12 February
Much like most of Mumbai’s infrastructure projects, there’s always been a shroud of secrecy around the modernisation of the city’s international airport. All one heard about were the various delays and difficulties: the struggle to acquire airport property which had been occupied by slum dwellers, in one case, the trouble in convincing political parties of the need to relocate a Shivaji statue so that a new terminal could be built on that spot. The neighbouring airport that was to come up in Kharghar and ease the congestion in the current airport is still to take off. With such news, and those of other delayed projects like Mumbai’s metro rail and mono rail, it appeared that this project, too, would lead to disappointment.

However, when Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) recently opened the doors of this new terminal, T2, to journalists and invited guests, there was nothing but awe. The new terminal is set to become operational from 12 February. After which, the two old terminals, domestic and international, will gradually be demolished, so that T2 can be turned into an integrated terminal for both domestic and international flights by the following year.

With an area of over 4,39,000 square metres, the new terminal is a modern four-level terminal that can cater to 40 million passengers annually. The facilities are top-notch. Instead of the old terminal’s 80 immigration counters, there are 140 counters. Nine stories of one building, three floors underground and six floors above ground serve as a car park for over 5,000 vehicles. A total of 37 travelators, 48 escalators and 72 elevators help passengers get around within the airport, and a six-lane elevated road connects the Western Expressway to the terminal.

In fact, much of the work is not visible to passengers. Veena Chiplunkar, spokesperson of MIAL, claims two runways were re-laid, new taxiways were built and a number of buildings in the vicinity were rebuilt. “We even re-routed the Mithi river that flows within the airport [area]. All of this, without disturbing the current airport’s operations,” she says.

The terminal’s design—by the Chicago-based architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which incidentally also designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai–is inspired by India’s national bird, the peacock. One can see this motif in the terminal’s various pillars and marble floor. There are more than 7,000 artworks from various parts of the country on a three-km-long Art Wall within the airport. At the inauguration of the airport recently, Sanjay Reddy, vice chairman of GVK Power & Infrastructure, the firm that built the new terminal, said, “The Louvre Museum in Paris receives about 9 million visitors a year, Jaya He Museum [the name of the art project within the terminal] at T2 will get 40 million visitors.” Chiplunkar explains, “Increasingly, Indians are losing touch with the culture and art of the country. This project in a way is to check that.” The pieces are as diverse as totems from Nagaland to installations by artists like Vivan Sundaram. An iPad app by which people can read more about each artwork and contact the artist concerned if they want to purchase any piece from him/her, has also been created.

“Sometimes, it looks like a marvel,” Chiplunkar says about the completion of the terminal. “We had to deal with so many encroachers and government bodies, that it sometimes appeared like it was jinxed.” Although 2,000 acres were promised for the new terminal, because of various encroachers and government offices that were not willing to move out, eventually only 1,400 acres was made available, leading to the building of this ‘vertical airport’ of four levels.