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Editorial | February 2014

MUMBAI PROJECTS GET A MOVE ON

Maharashtra's Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is not known for quick action on infrastructure projects, but with national election around the corner, projects got into quagmires and received lip service from the powers that be.  

As though to belie that reputation, the flurry of completed infrastructure projects makes Mumbai look like it's on a roll. The Terminal 2 of the airport, acclaimed as a design marvel, is now operational. The Navi Mumbai airport has finally seen some activity, as CIDCO floated RFQs last week. The first phase of the monorail has kicked off, and the fare box collection has been encouraging the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has collected Rs 5.71 lakh in just three days with 197 trips, albeit on a limited run between 7 am to 3 pm.

 

In March, the city's first and long-awaited metro line from Versova to Andheri is scheduled to start operating, cutting the hour-long travel experience for1,700 passengers per trip to just 20 minutes.

 

This year, the city also hopes to see the completion of a few projects lying in the most crowded of the city's congested suburbs: The third phase of the Eastern Freeway and the 3.5 km Santacruz-Chembur link road project, the Amarmahal junction flyover bridge worth Rs 76 crore and the 580 m Kherwadi flyover with six lanes costing Rs 22 crore. With the commencement of the Amarmahal junction, commuters travelling from Santacruz to Chembur will directly get connected to the Eastern Express highway. Meanwhile, the Kherwadi flyover, for which MMRDA had recently been criticised, will translate into a signal free road for 31 km once it is completed.

 

In addition, in coming years, Mumbai will get an additional Rs 4,500 crore infrastructure boost with new projects in the pipeline. These projects include the 4.25 km Sewri-Worli elevated corridor (a crucial project that links the ill-connected eastern and western parts of central Mumbai), built at a cost of Rs 490 crore and the Rs 4,045 crore Bandra-Versova sea link, which is the northward extension of the existing Worli-Bandra sea link. The 9.9 km link is proposed to be built via public-private partnership (PPP). The authorities have also proposed to connect Bandra-Kurla with Chunabhatti through a link road with a total cost of Rs 400 crore. It will be a two-lane corridor, 1.6 km in length.

 

There has been many more projects in the pipeline: Metro Line III connecting Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ worth Rs 24,000 crore; the Virar-Alibaug highway worth Rs 12,000 crore; a solid waste management project worth Rs 3,000 crore, and a direct link to Navi Mumbai International Airport, among other initiatives. In addition, the government is undertaking road projects (lengthening of roads by 275 km), 14 flyover bridges, three river overbridges, and two railway overbridges. Yet, the famed Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link to JNPT and Metro's Line II have faced major problems with unhappy bidders and politically instigated land acquisition problems, respectively. Indeed, the projects planned or proposed under PPP are the ones in most trouble.

 

The Maximum City is in dire need of an integrated entity that manages urban transport in Mumbai. A few bodies are directly run by the central government, and a veritable alphabet soup of state entities manages other projects. For example, seamless travel (through integrated ticketing) is still a pipedream, and the rash of new projects will not mitigate the problems. Second, private vehicle ownership has been growing by leaps and bounds, but the government has done little to encourage private vehicle owners to travel by public transport. Third, nothing has been done to decongest the overcrowded business districts: even the newer CBD, Bandra-Kurla Complex, which was created to decongest Nariman Point, is not a hub for transport. As Delhi has effectively done, it is important to encourage businesses to move to satellite towns, and Navi Mumbai, which is well-connected and planned, should be a natural alternative, especially given that the new international airport is coming up there. Fourth, the government should discontinue its policy of regularising illegal settlements, which often come up in areas earmarked for infrastructure projects, encouraging the uncontrollable migration that is choking Mumbai's development. While recently commissioned projects give hope to better city management, the financial capital's infrastructural bane is that projects have been like islands. Instead, there needs to be an integration of projects to complete one for example, without an exclusive approach, the Navi Mumbai airport is in danger of falling prey to that problem and will end up congesting a new stretch.

 

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