In the wake of the Bombay High Court’s stay on the Mumbai Metro III car shed project, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has asked officials to explore whether alternative locations are available for its relocation.
Sources said that one of the options being examined is a state-owned land parcel in the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai, which has been earmarked for the Centre’s flagship Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed corridor project, popularly known as the bullet train project.
The BKC land, 67 acre in all, is the starting point of the project. About 10 acre have been earmarked for bullet train work.
A privately-owned 500-acre land sprawl – previously tagged as an eco-sensitive belt but reclassified in Mumbai’s new development plan – in Goregaon’s Pahadi is also being considered. The previous Devendra Fadnavis regime had proposed to reserve 221 acre of the same land for a car shed by modifying the development plan, a final nod to which is still pending.
On condition of anonymity, a senior Shiv Sena minister told The Indian Express, “The government’s legal advisors are studying the HC order and examining the option of challenging it in the Supreme Court. We are also exploring whether alternative locations are available. We are looking at the BKC land and the Pahadi land, among others.”
Sources said that another state-owned land at Mumbai University’s Kalina campus, which was also examined in the past, is also being explored.
Incidentally, the Pahadi land was one of the parcels examined by a high-level committee appointed by Thackeray and found to be economically unviable. The committee, headed by Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) Manoj Saunik, had in its report submitted to the government in January, even advised against relocation of car shed to Kanjurmarg from Aarey Milk Colony where it was being built during the previous regime.
The committee, which had explored both the Kanjurmarg and the Pahadi options among other alternatives, had cited technical and logistical hurdles, commissioning delays and cost escalations to recommend that the relocation of the project from Aarey was unviable.
With the overnight felling of 2,141 trees at Aarey for the car shed just ahead of Assembly polls in 2019 becoming a
political flashpoint between Shiv Sena and BJP, Thackeray had overlooked the committee’s findings and announced the relocation of the project to a 102-acre land at Kanjurmarg, which is now stuck in legal dispute.
The Bombay High Court on Wednesday stayed further implementation of a Mumbai collector’s land allotment order dated October 1, transferring the Kanjurmarg land to the state-run Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) for the project, ordering a stop to all construction activities at the site.
Admitting the Centre’s plea that the land in question was an erstwhile salt pan land, which belonged to it, and taking claims of two private parties on record, the HC had also rapped the state bureaucracy for its “careless” approach.
While the chief minister has asked the state Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni and the law department to advise him on the feasibility of challenging the HC order in the Supreme Court, sources said he has simultaneously asked officials to look for alternative sites for relocation, sensing the possibility of a protracted legal battle.
The court stay has led to further uncertainty on the completion of the 33.5-km long underground Metro line, which is already running behind schedule and has seen a sharp cost escalation.
The HC order has also renewed the political slugfest between the two former allies. On Thursday, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut took a veiled dig at the BJP, labelling the HC order as
“unfortunate” and terming it as a “conspiracy to see that Maharashtra government is not allowed to carry out work in the interest of the people and development”.
Another Shiv Sena leader said that it is disappointing that the next hearing in the case is scheduled only in February, 2021.
On Wednesday, hours after the court delivered its verdict, Fadnavis had said that they (the government) should set aside their ego and resume work at the Aarey site.
BJP’s Pravin Darekar, also the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council, on Thursday questioned Sena on its move to examine the BKC land. “They should not make it a vendetta issue,” he said.
Sources, meanwhile, said that Thackeray is miffed with some senior bureaucrats for inept handling of the matter.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines