Differences between the Centre and Maharastra leads Mumbai Metro run into troubles

Mumbai: In November last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a meeting of top officials of the Planning Commission, the Maharashtra government and state Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The agenda was to take stock of the Rs 22,000-crore Indian Railways project to build a 60-km elevated rail corridor to ease the growing traffic here.

Soon after the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement, saying a fresh traffic study would be conducted, taking into account the Mumbai metro project that was partially aligned on similar lines. The state government clarified it wouldn’t allow a higher floor space index (FSI) to the project, to be built on the public-private partnership model. It also highlighted its own metro rail projects under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).

The meeting ended without any resolution to Mumbai’s traffic woes and exposed the differences between the central and state governments.

While the state government was lobbying for its metro project, officials of Reliance Infrastructure, which bagged the Mumbai Metro phase-II project in 2009, said the project was as good as dead. The state government had touted the project, aimed at connecting Charkop with Mankhurd via Bandra, as a dream project, one that would connect the city’s western suburbs with those in the east.

While walking away from the project, Reliance Infrastructure cited lack of land at Charkop.

In September 2013, MMRDA invited bids for yet another underground metro project, worth Rs 23,126 crore, along the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz route. The project, to be called Metro-III, was to have a 33.5-km corridor and 26 underground stations and was to be financed by the government of Japan. MMRDA hasn’t disclosed the bidders for the project yet.

“What is the use of calling in bids, setting up project reports and doing traffic studies for the last 10 years if there is no progress on the ground?” asks a chief executive of an infrastructure company. “There is no coordination between the railways, MMRDA and the state government to come out with an integrated plan for Mumbai city,” he adds.

While the state government is opposing the Indian Railways project, citing FSI norms, the metro projects are threatened by land acquisition issues and protests by locals who don’t want roads to be dug up for years and traffic disrupted, as had happened in the case of the Mumbai Metro phase-I project between Ghatkopar and Versova.

Analysts say the viable long-term solution for infrastructure projects is adopting an integrated project-planning approach. The Indian Railways’ project has to be in line with other metro projects, as there is demand for both projects due to the rising population here, they add.

As Mumbai has the world’s most crowded and overloaded railway system, the current network is unable to meet the demand.

“There is space for both the elevated railways project and metro projects…proper coordination between the state and central government authorities will help the city’s infrastructure projects. The government should also look at the option of setting up railway projects over the sea, so as not to disturb the present population. Many cities across the world have already done this,” says the chief executive of another infrastructure company.