Touted as one of the key infrastructure projects that is set to change the way the city travels, the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar (VAG) Metro has not been able to cast its spell on most people living or working along the route. Those welcoming the project as a move to reduce commuters’ woes, are few.
As the city goes to vote on April 24, the ruling Congress-NCP alliance’s pet project is unlikely to be a factor in attracting votes from people along the VAG corridor. For many, it is just not a reason based on which they would chose the right candidate to vote for.
The construction of the alternative transport system that began in February 2008, has taken nearly seven years with a delay of over two years. The 11.4-km corridor cuts through commercial and residential spaces. While businesses took a hit, residents rued the pollution and traffic snarls due to the construction of the Metro.
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Shopkeepers near Andheri station complain that the roads in front of their shops have been shut for traffic for several months. Road widening and Metro station construction work has, in some cases, led to closure of business. Shopkeepers claim that the Metro work has led to losses running up to 75 per cent in and around the station.
For Veera Desai Road residents, who have braced an unprecedented increase in traffic since the work began, the wait has been frustrating. “The traffic situation was chaotic when work had just begun, but now we are used to it. But we don’t believe what anyone says about when the Metro will start. It is now too late for it to influence voters,” said 24-year-old photographer Sajna Sivan.
On the other end of the corridor, J D Shah (70), however, feels differently. “Development is necessary. The situation would have been the same had any other political party been in power,” the resident of Ghatkopar (West) said.
While proximity to a Metro station has escalated property prices in some parts of the city, others feel that living next to a Metro station is hardly advantageous.
“Where the rent used to be 5,000, it is now already 10,000 even before the Metro has begun,” says Mohamed Hanif Sayyed, a resident of Andheri (West).
Rajmumar Munot (72), secretary of the Chandra Nivas society outside the Airport Road station, however, said, “I have been living here since 1971. Nobody is coming forward to redevelop our society unless it’s given at a throw-away price. The Metro station has been of no help. In fact, midnight announcements on the station during trial runs are giving residents sleepless nights. Hawkers will surface once the station is operational and add to the nuisance. Based on this project, nobody can get a vote.”
While business suffered over seven years, Puneet Mahajan, general manager of the Kohinoor Continental hotel near the Chakala Metro station, feels that it will look up once the Metro is operational. “While the construction was going on, the whole stretch was chaotic. The entrance of the hotel was blocked and our banquet business dropped by 25 per cent.” He feels that once the project is open to public Mumbai residents could use the Metro to attend conferences held at the hotel. “Major projects have taken twice or thrice the time that they should have. Public money was wasted. This will have a negative impact on voting,” said Mahajan.
Having lost 350 sq ft of his 460 sq ft office space next to Asalpha station, Kokane Kisan (58), who runs an autorickshaw spare parts shop, is unhappy with the project. “While the project is useful for the city, it has affected my work. The compensation for the office space that I parted with is yet to reach me.”
Not all may be bleak for the government. “We have witnessed a 25 to 75 per cent loss of business. The road from Andheri station to Navrang cinema along the J P Road had been shut for months. Our MP and local MLA ensured our shops were not demolished. They also reduced the space taken from our area for road-widening. Most of the shopkeepers and residents have resolved to stick to the current government as it at least helped solve our problems,” said Inderpal Singh Sabharwal, secretary of Andheri Shopkeepers’ and Residents’ Welfare Association.