To protect the Oval, minister opposes CM’s dream project

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s dream project – the Rs 20,000-crore Churchgate-Virar elevated railway corridor – has run into opposition from within his own team.

Minister of Rural Development and Mumbai city district’s guardian minister Jayant Patil has opposed the project as it involves creation of a station under the Oval maidan, one of last surviving open spaces in south Mumbai.

Also, since the Oval is a Grade-I heritage precinct and is surrounded by heritage structures like the High Court on the one side and an art-deco residential quarter on the other, the minister feels the train station will interfere with the area’s character.

Since Patil belongs the Sharad Pawarcontrolled Nationalist Congress Party, a coalition partner of the Congress, his opposition to the project indicates that government is deeply divided on the feasibility as well as the desirability of the project.

The minister raised his objections in the chief minister’s presence at a presentation made by Western Railway General Manager Mahesh Kumar before the state cabinet at Vidhan Bhavan on Tuesday. While Patil’s objections were taken on board, the cabinet later gave its in-principal approval to the project.

Patil, who spent his childhood in south Mumbai and studied civil engineering at VJTI, Matunga, however, is not giving up yet. “I feel that the Oval should not be touched. While the WR GM claimed that only small constructions for passenger exits will be overground, I have clearly told them I am opposed to even a brick being placed on the maidan,” he said.

Though the Churchgate-Virar elevated corridor is one of a select few infrastructure projects that the Prime Minister’s Office in Delhi monitoring, Patil too has some support, though light-weight in comparison, in the Oval-Cooperage Residents Association and the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee.

Former chief secretary V Rangnathan, who now heads the heritage conservation committee, said the Western Railway has not shared the project plans with the committee. “Oval Maidan is a Grade-I heritage precinct and we have to maintain its sanctity. No construction – under or above — will be permitted,” he said.

Nayana Kathpalia, a member of the Oval-Cooperage Residents Association, said the residents of the neighbourhood over the years have forced the government to withdraw several proposals for redevelopment of Oval Maidan. “At one point, they wanted to build a parking lot under the maidan. We opposed and the plan was dropped. We will oppose this proposal too.”

Kathpalia said there is no need to build another railway station in the area when one (Churchgate) already exists. “Also, the Metro will soon come up to Fountain, so what’s the need of this elevated corridor?’’

Patil, who lives in a bungalow off Pedder Road and has childhood memories of many lazy afternoons spent at the Oval in company of friends, said he will oppose the project at every level.

V K Singhal, Western Railway’s chief administrative officer (constructions) said the 62.268-km elevated corridor is still one-and-half years away from commencement of construction. “We have an in-principal approval from the state. Since it is a public private participation project, we have to get a concessionaire and also get the land acquired wherever needed.”

Singhal said that at no point will the entire maidan be dug up. “We will use the cut-and-cover method. Once the construction work is over, the maidan will be restored to its current shape.”