Mumbai: Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) has sent the modified state support agreement (SSA) for Western Railway’s (WR) elevated corridor between Andheri-Virar, to the Maharashtra government.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu, in his budget speech on February 25, announced that the Churchgate-Virar elevated corridor project would be taken up.
MRVC’s chairman and managing director Prabhat Sahai said, “We have offered to carry out the work between Andheri-Virar since the state earlier expressed reservations against building the corridor up to Churchgate.” He added, “We can execute the project on a public-private-partnership (PPP) model. The Andheri-Virar section is expected to cost around Rs 10,000 crore.”
While the SSA is crucial for execution of the project, the previous Democratic Front government refused to sign the agreement as it had serious reservations about some clauses. The SSA puts the responsibility on state agencies to clear all hurdles like rehabilitation, shifting of utilities, etc in a time-bound manner. “The draft SSA has been sent to the state government with minor modifications,” Sahai said.
Elevated corridors: a case of misplaced priorities? Experts say the plan hinges on projects that haveso far remained confined to paper
The announcement of Churchgate-Virar and CST-Panvel elevated corridors by Railway minister Suresh Prabhu during his budget speech failed to enthuse Mumbaikars.
For starters, they say the solution to an overstretched suburban rail network no longer rests on North-South connectivity; instead there was a need to connect the eastern and western ends of the city.
On the CST-Panvel corridor, experts said the plan hinges on projects that have so far remained on paper.
Western corridor already well-served
Apart from the Western Railways suburban line, which connects Churchgate to Dahanu, the western suburbs are also connected by the Western Express Highway.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) also plans a coastal road, from Marine Drive to Mira Road, and eventually extending to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway. And the ambitious Metro-III project — an underground Metro line being implemented by MMRDA — two stretches up to Seepz in Andheri from Colaba in South Mumbai.
The proposed 62-km-long 26-stations elevated corridor will be yet another addition to the North-South connectivity list.
As per a government estimate, it could cost approximately Rs 7000 crore. With the Metro-III project (estimated cost Rs 23,000 crore), and the coastal road (Rs 12,000 crore) that is Rs 42,000 crore on the Western corridor alone.
“The elevated corridor between Churchgate and Virar can never be a feasible option,” said Ashok Datar of the Mumbai Environmental Social Network (MESN). “We have to stop focusing on the Western [Railway] line. When the population in south Mumbai is not growing and business centres are shifting to the suburbs, is it feasible to invest thousands of crores on such projects?”
“We have been saying that the elevated corridor must be redesigned and should [run] from Andheri to Dahanu,” said Shailendra Kamble of Pravas Adhikar Andolan Samiti. “The minister should have gone through the project in a realistic manner. Money should be spent on the right projects.”
CST-Panvel: connecting projects on paper
The CST-Panvel elevated corridor, Mr Prabhu said in his address, will be connected to the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport as well as to the Metro project.
Mr Kamble pointed out that neither of the two projects has commenced. “One should not be overjoyed just because of the announcements. No work has actually begun on any of these projects,” he said.
Subhash Gupta, member of Central Railway’s Zonal Railway Users’ Consultative Committee (ZRUCC), said the commuters had expected more trains, and more trips on the Harbour line.
“While an elevated corridor is a welcome step,” Mr Gupta said, “it is not going to alleviate commuter hardship for at least a few years more. Making all trains 12-coach, and increasing the number of trains, were the only options, but nothing seems to have been done.”