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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Aarey car shed relocation: Govt revives an old option, with help of a technicality

According to sources, the 41-hectare dried salt pan land at Kanjurmarg, where the car shed will now come up, was a much-favoured option for its construction when plans for the 33.5-km long underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro 3 corridor were first drawn up in 2013.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar , Neeraj Tiwari | Mumbai | Updated: October 12, 2020 10:05:10 am
aarey car shed, aarey metro project, Aarey forest, Aarey car shed relocation, Aarey car shed new location, Aarey Milk Colony, Mumbai forest, Uddhav Thackeray, mumbai city newsThe reserved forest area encompasses 107 land parcels from Aarey, including an area of 40.46 hectare previously slotted for the zoo. (File)

Keen to shift the Metro car shed out of Aarey, the Uddhav Thackeray government has made use of a previously ignored technicality to opt for the Kanjurmarg land.

According to sources, the 41-hectare dried salt pan land at Kanjurmarg, where the car shed will now come up, was a much-favoured option for its construction when plans for the 33.5-km long underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro 3 corridor were first drawn up in 2013. A Congress-NCP government was in power in the state at that time.

In 2015 again, when a government panel appointed by then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis considered alternatives to the Aarey site following widespread protests, the same Kanjurmarg land was the first choice. Back then, the Fadnavis government had cited an ongoing legal dispute to rule out the option.

Explained | The politics behind Uddhav govt decision to move contentious shed out of Aarey

Reviving the same option now, sources said the Uddhav regime has dusted off an old legal order passed by the state revenue minister’s office, acting as a quasi-judicial authority, to take over the land at zero cost.

Before making the announcement of relocating the car shed out of Aarey, sources in the Chief Minister’s Office said that Uddhav took legal opinion from state Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni on whether the Kanjurmarg land vested in the state government.

Acting swiftly after the latter concurred with this viewpoint, Uddhav directed suburban Collector Milind Borikar to initiate formalities of allotment of the salt pan land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) for the purpose of the car shed.

Borikar said he had issued an order for the allotment on October 1, which was processed by the government within five days. On October 6, the revenue department passed orders allotting the 41-hectare land to MMRDA at no cost.

According to sources, the land is a part of a 200-hectare land parcel that was under dispute. The Centre’s salt pan commissioner had staked claim for the same land.

While the Bombay High Court had in 1997 ordered a status quo in the matter, the Uddhav government has now taken recourse to a subsequent order by the quasi-judicial authority that had ruled in the state’s favour. “This was not challenged by the salt commissioner’s office. So, the title is settled in the state’s favour,” a senior official said.

Asked why the same option was not exercised earlier, a senior official said: “One of the deciding factors in not following up on the legal matter was the deadline set by the previous government for the project.”

Explained | The fight over Mumbai’s Aarey Colony

The HC had initially also asked the state to deposit Rs 2,661 crore during the pendency of the dispute.

Incidentally, the new site will now serve as the car depot for two Metro corridors – line 3 and the 14.47-km long elevated Metro 6 corridor between Swami Samarth Nagar (Lokhandwala, Andheri) to Vikhroli, which is under construction. The decision also entails integration of two Metro lines near the Aarey site itself.

The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL), which is building the underground Metro 3 corridor, will now construct a 1.5-km long elevated viaduct from the Aarey site to meet the other line between Seepz and Saki Naka. The MMRDA, which is building the Metro 6 corridor, has consented to the integration.

“Some system specifications will have to change. The stations will for corridor 6 near the Kanjurmarg end will now have to designed to accommodate eight coaches instead of six,” an official said.

While the integration of the line and the construction of the car depot is estimated to cost Rs 300 to Rs 400 crore, MMRCL officials said the cost of construction of the underground line will shoot up further.

There has already been a near 47 per cent increase in the project’s cost – from Rs 23,000 crore when work began in 2016 to Rs 34,000 crore last October – owing to changes in technical specifications, increase in civil cost and construction delays.

Sources said the state urban development department is in the process of submitting a proposal to the Cabinet for issuance of state’s guarantee for the MMRCL to avail an additional Rs 8,000-crore loan from Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is funding the project.

“Construction of the depot is one of the most critical activities for the successful delivery of the Metro 3 for receiving, testing and commissioning the trains. We are now starting from scratch. This will push the project by at least two-and-a-half years,” an official said, adding that a single day delay was costing Rs 4.5 crore.

“The likelihood of the cost escalation by another Rs 2,500 crore cannot be ruled out,” the official said. About 60 per cent of the construction work for Metro 3 has been completed, while 18 per cent work has been done on the other line.

Project shifted to satisfy ego, Metro cost to go up by Rs 4,000 crore: Fadnavis

Calling the decision to shift the Metro 3 car shed out of Aarey as unfortunate, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Devendra Fadnavis, on Sunday said that the decision had been taken to merely satisfy someone’s ego.

“The decision will increase the cost of the project by at least Rs 4,000 crore,” he tweeted. Without naming Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, he added: “Why such a huge burden just to satisfy someone’s ego? Whom does government want to suffer and for what?”

Admitting that the Kanjurmarg site was considered by his government, Fadnavis added, “It was under litigation and stayed by the high court. Some private individuals claimed their rights. The stay was requested to be withdrawn. But the court wanted the amount (around Rs 2400 crore) to be deposited if the claims got settled in future.”

He inquired about the status of this case, adding that it would take at least two years to stabilise the marshy land. Accusing the government of misleading people, Fadnavis alleged the government had already lost Rs 1,700 crore since the stay was imposed on the car shed work last November, and would need to bear an additional cost of Rs 4,000 crore.

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