Checks and Balances with Geetanjali Minhas: The crucial transport-infrastructure project has been behind the schedule and citizens have to pay a heavy price for it. What do policymakers say about the ongoing work?
GN Bureau | October 4, 2022
In Mumbai, the ninth most populous and congested city on the planet, high rentals compel citizens to spend five hours on an average travelling to work every day.
Mumbai’s Metro Rail System extending towards Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) will not only provide East-West connectivity but also connect the city’s unlinked areas though a wide network. The system is aimed to supplement chock-a-block local trains, reduce traffic congestion and increase public transport in the city.
The Metro framework was set in and initiated by the UPA government at the centre. Mumbai’s first Metro started in 2014 during the Congress-NCP regime six years after work began in 2008 and is heavily utilised.
Change in the governments thereafter, late environmental clearances, troubles in land acquisition and protests led to delay and cost escalation of the metro projects. Specifically, the BJP government’s preference of having Metro car shed in the green zone of Aarey has been a litigious issue. With 8-9 lines underway, the Metro is being implemented in two phases starting with construction of depot of concerned line in Phase 1 and remaining work in Phase 2.
That said, Mumbaikars are having a harrowing time due to construction work going on all across the city. Daily travel is excruciating due to traffic jams on narrowed roads and lanes choked with debris, parking of heavy construction machinery and vehicles, barricades and other obstructions.
The recently commissioned lines of 2A and 7, though only partly operational, have recorded a ridership of over 45.62 lakh passengers since opening in April and fourth week of September, respectively. The government plans to commission the remaining stretch of both lines by December.
As citizens wait for metro lines to start, in the latest edition of Checks and Balances, Geetanjali Minhas of Governance Now spoke to leading policymakers on the pressing issues concerning Metro projects.
Watch the episode here:
“Doing projects in Mumbai is like operating a running man”
-- SVR Srinivas, MMRDA commissioner
Denying delay, Mumbai Metropolitan Commissioner SVR Srinivas says all lines have been commissioned in a span of five years and work is going on fast, adding that Phase I of lines 4, 5 and 6 will be commissioned in the next few years. He says Mumbai has always been a public transport-oriented city as even the Versova-Ghatkopar Line 1 of 11.4 km with 3-4 lakh ridership is more than that of Delhi metro.
Srinivas adds that besides the Covid-19 effect, challenges like the Right of Way in a heavily congested city as also the locations of car depot etc led to delays.
Doing projects in Mumbai is like operating upon a running man; you cannot stop traffic and utilities and start digging the roads to do projects, he says. But the authorities and administration are working to find solutions for commissioning of metro lines.
With the commissioning of many lines by 2024-25, the share of public transport will go up substantially. On multi-modal connectivity of Metro lines, Srinivas says MMRDA is working on global lines with the strengthening of city feeder services, tying of integrated of public transport (IPP) and non-motorised transport (NMT).
“The government is focused on having non-motorised transport to reduce carbon emissions and the two partial lines that commenced recently have been provided with cycle stands.”
Srinivas says that authorities need to be clear on the Right of Way issues; otherwise projects get delayed. With at least 40-50 different private and government utility services cables laid down in every ward and outside the purview of MMRDA or even other agencies that undertake mega projects, any project implementation has to be done very cautiously. Rehabilitation of project-affected persons (PAP), planning and sequencing of work and projects with right monitoring tools on a daily basis like site visits and stand-up meetings etc, are key to solutions. He also favours having a mixed-use urban development plan, so that people can do walk to work.
Srinivas says MMRDA is now mainstreaming environment and with use of environmentally friendly technologies in all its projects. He assures that 90% of undergoing Metro projects should be completed by 2025 which he termed as watershed year for MMR infrastructure.
On affordability, he says that though the fare should affordable it should also able to meet operating costs and have a fine balance.
Expressing confidence on MMRDA having adequate finance and timely completion of metro projects, Srinivas says Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde and deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis have been proactive in their support. Adding that MMRDA has its own robust engineering team and planners, Srinivas makes a case for the government to have some TOD cess so that same can be ploughed back in the form of capital in infra projects.
Further, with Rs 12,000 crore of state guarantee and state government permitting to mobilize Rs 60,000 crore, Srinivas is sure that projects will be completed on time.
“With financial issues addressed by the government and negotiations taking place with institutions for funding, finances will not be a problem for ongoing and planned projects with MMRDA. Despite having huge real estate assets, MMRDA will be require huge spending on heavy infra projects and next two years MMRDA will be in high peak activity,” he says.
“Metro 3 line delayed due to arrogance of Thackeray father-son duo”
--Ashish Shelar, Mumbai President, BJP
Hitting out at the Congress-NCP government, Ashish Shelar, president of the Mumbai unit of BJP, says their arrogance led to delay and completion of only half of Metro line 1. On the controversial car shed of underground Metro 3 at Aarey, Shelar maintains it would have been completed by now if former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had continued to be in power. For this, he blames his party’s former ally, Shiv Sena president and former CM, Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya, former environment minister, as well as the BMC. He says a burden of cost escalation of Rs 10,000 crore has now fallen on Mumbai citizens.
“Metro 3 car shed has been planned properly. Only after expert committee opinion in a holistic plan work was started. Governments’ planning has been upheld by the NGT, the high court as well as the supreme court.”
Crediting his party’s government for a fast-paced completion of Metro lines, Shelar further says that while in power, within 3.5 years, BJP started and completed more than 50% of 9 metro lines and faster than other city in the country.
On land acquisition and rehabilitation of PAP, Shelar says that during 2014-19 complying all legalities, Fadnavis’s approach was humane and generous to rehabilitate PAP [residents of chawls] in-situ with a larger area than the one provisioned under Mumbai DCR.
Asked as to reasonably when Metro network will be completed, Shelar answers: “Statement given by the deputy CM in the state assembly is clear that by 2023 Metro 3 will be complete and several other lines in the city, extended suburbs and Thane city and will be completed by 2025-2026.”
Asked if climate change and rising sea levels have been factored in the underground Metro 3 project, the Mumbai BJP head states that the metro authorities and route designers have considered expert groups and environment impact issues for the project.
Shelar also says that all political parties should come together to take the cause of making their cities green to citizens imploring them to choose to travel on Metro and public transport over their cars.
On fares, he says any delay leads to cost escalation which is to be eventually borne by citizens. The state is on course considering revenue generation options for metro projects apart from tickets. As an example, he mentions a huge mall that is coming up near Mumbai International Airport enroute Metro 3.
“Alternatives to Aarey are there. But BJP is insisting on Aarey”
--Clyde Crasto, National Spokesperson, NCP
Clyde Crasto, national spokesperson, NCP, questions BJP on the slow pace of Metro work during its five years in power earlier and says that in following the processes, there has been no delay on the part of the Democratic Front government. After Mahavikas Aghadi came to power towards the end of 2019, it wanted to shift the car shed out of Aarey green zone to Kanjurmarg. Moreover, besides Kanjurmarg, there have been alternative suggestions for car shed at Goregaon too.
“Despite the supreme court order not to cut trees, the Fadnavis-led government went on overnight tree cutting spree. Aarey is not a political issue. It is the issue of every Mumbaikar. We need to save it. The alternatives to Aarey are there. But the BJP is insisting on Aarey. The truth will come out some day why BJP is insisting on Aarey.”
Crasto adds that BJP did nothing to escalate the work and kept blaming the MVA and common Mumbaikar is suffering. The consecutive governments have played a part and credit will be given to parties for their good work.
Environmentalist Debi Goenka says lack of proper planning in these capital intensive projects has led to problems like Aarey car shed, which is a biodiversity hotspot with wildlife in eco- sensitive zone. He said Kanjurmarg land also is salt pan land and falls in CRZ. He asks if a commuter has to pay Rs 10 per km for daily travel how many Mumbaikars will be able to afford such fare structure.
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