Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is striving to implement a slew of projects to strengthen infrastructure. Rahul Asthana, its commissioner, tells Sanjay Jog about the challenges. Edited excerpts:
What are the key infrastructure projects in Mumbai under implementation?
With the burgeoning population of Mumbai, its infrastructure is under severe stress. We have already constructed flyovers, rail overbridges, roads. At present, we are involved in a few key projects such as Metro Rail (Rs 2,400 crore), Monorail (Rs 2,700 crore), Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (Rs 9,900 crore), Eastern Freeway (Rs 1,100 crore), Sahar Elevated Road (Rs 300 crore), Rail Overbridge at Milan subway (Rs 80 crore), Extended Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (Rs 2,600 crore) for roads outside Mumbai but in the metropolitan region. These are huge projects and will require time.
Hasn’t project implementation been marked by inordinate delays?
Projects do get delayed due to unforeseen issues like shifting of underground and overground utilities, railway permissions, resettlement and rehabilitation. Hurdles are aplenty and city folk are inconvenienced. But, big projects cannot come up overnight. There’s a premium on every inch of land. The population of the city is growing by leaps and bounds. Implementing big projects in a city like Mumbai is a challenge. At the same time, I must also appreciate that the people of Mumbai are patient and cooperative.
What are the major factors responsible for delays?
There are underground utilities, and unmapped, all over the suburban area, eastern as also the western. For metro and monorail construction, we also require various permissions from various departments, of which railway permissions are crucial. We require mega blocks for the construction of the metro steel bridge. Blocks are required for the rail overbridge at Milan subway.
Also, the city hardly sleeps and working on such very busy and crowded stretches throws up many a challenge. The security of working staff, people and property in general remains the focus and hampers speed of work. Most projects require environmental clearances. The resettlement and rehabilitation of project-affected families and religious structures proves time-consuming. The monsoon, festivals, opposition from locals, their leaders and various related reasons also hurl in a few spanners.
Metro Phase-I and monorail deadlines are being regularly rescheduled. There has been cost escalation, too. Why?
The Metro-I corridor is passing through a very busy road. You need traffic permissions to plan every construction activity. You can’t work at night, as citizens are disturbed. Land acquisition has been difficult. Permission to land the metro staircase on the footpath took some time. We also needed environmental permission to cross the Mahul Creek on the mono corridor. The underground utilities are everywhere, not only on metro and mono corridors. These utilities are not mapped and, mind you, both these roads are very busy. The MMRDA has also been involved in resettling and rehabilitating 40,000 project-affected families while implementing various infrastructure projects. All such activities are time-consuming.
Metro Phase-II is yet to take off, while Metro-III is caught in controversy and opposition from various sections. What is the status?
The metro-II project requires land and environmental clearances for depots at Charkop and Mankhurd. We also require land for the casting yard. Mere identification of lands do not serve the purpose. For Metro-III, the process to secure a Japan International Cooperation Agency loan is at an advanced stage and we expect the agreement by December this year.
Have scarcity of funds and lack of coordination among agencies impacted project implementation?
MMRDA is cash-rich; funds are not a constraint. And, while we have constructed a number of flyovers and roads, we are also implementing metro and monorail projects in coordination with the respective agencies, as also with the state government. When we have to deal with a multitude of departments for clearances like the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, forest, railways, environment, revenue, etc, there is bound to be some delay. However, these are resolved through various coordination committees.
What about the recent accidents?
Safety is something MMRDA is very serious about. Recently, the structural failure of launching girders led to a very unfortunate accident on the Eastern Freeway. We have already initiated an enquiry into the accident towards identification of the cause and fixation of responsibility. A committee of independent experts will also be appointed immediately towards this enquiry. Their findings will result in a review of the processes we undertake. We are also issuing a strict diktat to all other contractors working on MMRDA projects as far as safety norms are concerned.