January 23, 2021 2:23:22 am
Echoing the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government’s argument in favour of a car shed for the Mumbai Metro 3 corridor at Kanjurmarg, a nine-man expert panel – headed by state Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar – has ruled that the 102-acre land earmarked for construction at Kanjurmarg was more suitable than the site at Aarey.
Rejecting an earlier committee’s report that Aarey was the most suitable site for the car shed project, the committee, which had submitted its findings to the CMO on Thursday, has opined that more space inside the ecologically rich Aarey expanse will be required for the expansion of the yard in future, necessitating further damage to the green cover.
In October 2019, just ahead of the Assembly polls in Maharashtra, overnight felling of 2,500 trees for the project at Aarey by then Devendra Fadnavis-led regime had triggered widespread protests. Thackeray’s son Aaditya, now the environment minister, had spearheaded the protests. The issue has since become a political bone of contention between the two sides.
Having stayed the Aarey project almost immediately after coming to power, Thackeray had, last October, scrapped the project altogether, opting for an integrated yard for four Metro lines (3, 4, 6 and 14) at the 102-acre Kanjurmarg site.
But on December 16, 2020, the collector’s allotment of the Kanjurmarg land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Road Development Authority (MMRDA) ran into a legal hurdle, with the Bombay High Court staying construction at the site, while admitting pleas by the Centre’s salt department and private parties against the allotment.
The BJP, relying mainly on a January 2019 report by another Thackeray-appointed panel, has questioned the CM’s relocation move. The previous panel, headed by Additional Chief Secretary Manoj Saunik, had ruled out Kanjurmarg, stating that the integration of multiple Metro lines was technically and financially unviable while recommending resumption of the car shed work at Aarey.
With the HC expected to hear the matter next month, Thackeray, in a bid to make a stronger case for Kanjurmarg, had on January 6 formed the chief secretary-led panel to re-evaluate the integration option and the suitability of the sites.
After four meetings and one site visit, the panel submitted its findings on Thursday. K V Krishna Rao, Professor of Centre for Urban Science and Engineering in IIT-Bombay was a part of the panel, which also had six senior bureaucrats besides Kumar.
Principal Secretary (Environment) Manisha Mhaiskar, BMC Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, Konkan Divisional Commissioner Annasaheb Misal, Transport Commissioner Avinash Dhakne, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) Managing Director Ranjit Singh Deol, Additional Metropolitan Commissioner Sonia Sethi and MMRDA’s Director (Works) Pramod Ahuja were appointed as members, making it a superior panel than the previous one.
Overruling the Saunik committee’s findings, the new panel has ruled in favour of a common car shed at Kanjurmarg for the underground Metro corridor 3 (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz), two other underconstruction elevated lines – line 6 (Swami Samarath Nagar-Vikhroli) and line 4 (Wadala-Kasarvadavli) – and the proposed corridor 14 (Kanjurmarg-Badlapur), arguing that it was technically and economically viable.
It has argued that the Kanjurmarg site, on account of its larger size, can also accommodate future expansion requirements more adequately than Aarey, and can effectively be rendered as a “transit hub” on the lines of the yard for the London Underground.
Sources, however, said that during the committee’s meeting, representatives of MMRDA and MMRCL, which is overseeing line 3 construction, had a differing view over time and cost overruns in the commissioning of the corridor on account of such an integration. Even in the past, MMRCL has raised concerns about the economic viability and the legal and contractual hassles on account of such a move.
But sources said that the panel, eventually, has echoed MMRDA’s argument that building a common facility was in the long-term public interest and will bring down the collective cost of Metro projects by Rs 4,656 crore. Sources added that MMRCL representatives had not submitted any dissenting note against the viewpoint in the final report.
Besides Aarey and Kanjurmarg, the panel also inspected land options at Bandra-Kurla Complex and Kalina but ruled them out. While a technical argument that even Aarey could accommodate the future expansion requirements – without more chopping of trees — was made during a meeting, it is not a part of the final report, said sources.
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