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Debt-ridden & ignored not so long ago, MSRDC now go-to agency for infra projects in state

While the agency specialises in trunk infrastructure projects, it has also secured rights for a couple of building construction projects, including Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s flagship temple conservation project and a documentation project for archiving the Covid-19 pandemic.

Written by Sandeep Ashar, Vishwas Waghmode | Mumbai |
January 23, 2021 3:03:54 am
Uddhav Thackeray, MSRDC, MSRDC debt, MMR, Maharashtra cabinet, MSRDC projects, indian express newsWork in progress for Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi corridor project. (Courtesy: MSRDC)

Maharashtra government’s Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI), in its recent meeting, has granted the state-run Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) a go-ahead to undertake seven new big ticket infrastructure projects worth Rs 1.86 lakh crore.

With this, MSRDC, which not so long ago was saddled with a debt of Rs 6,500 crore, has scripted a turnaround, and now has government projects worth Rs 2.62 lakh crore in all.

While the agency specialises in trunk infrastructure projects, it has also secured rights for a couple of building construction projects, including Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s flagship temple conservation project and a documentation project for archiving the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the Mumbai Metropolitan Region lead government agency for strategic infrastructure projects over the last decade and a half, senior officials said that MSRDC – helmed by retired IAS officer Radheshyam Mopalwar – has emerged as the government’s go-to agency for flagship initiatives.

One of the new projects the Cabinet committee has assigned to MSRDC happens to be the much-delayed 126 km-long Virar-Alibaug Multi Modal corridor (VAMMC) – worth Rs 39,841 crore – being implemented previously by MMRDA. Conceptualised in 2011, the project has been mired in delays due to land acquisition and lack of statutory clearances.

Apart from VAMMC, the committee, in its latest meeting on January 14, sanctioned a viability gap fund of Rs 4,500 crore and a state equity component while okaying MSRDC’s financing proposal for the 174-km long Pune outer ring road, described as Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s pet initiative.

Meant to decongest Pune’s traffic, the Rs 26,400-crore ring road has been designed to provide an alternate link for diverting highway vehicles entering Pune from Mumbai, Nashik, Aurangabad, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru.

Mopalwar, MSRDC’s Chairman-cum-Managing Director, told The Indian Express that the ring road project and the VAMMC are now MSRDC’s top priority assignments. The government wants it to commission these before the 2024 Assembly polls.

The agency, said Mopalwar, is on course for timely completion of its ongoing showcase – the 701-km Mumbai-Nagpur Super Communication Expressway, officially renamed as Hindu Hridaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg – by May 2022.

Conceptualised and executed originally by the previous BJP regime, it is touted as India’s biggest road project. “We have finished 70 per cent of construction. Plans are to commission 520 km of the road this year,” Mopalwar said.

The Cabinet committee has also approved a new 18-km long Nashik connector for the Samruddhi project, which is estimated to cost Rs 250 crore.

The MSRDC was further granted a go-ahead for preparing detailed project reports for the Konkan expressway (Rs 71,000 crore), the Nanded-Jalna expressway (Rs 7,000 crore) and the Versova-Virar arm of the Mumbai Sea Link (Rs 32,000 crore). It has been newly appointed as the nodal agency for a Rs 10,000 crore coastal highway, connecting Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhurdurg.

Except for the highway, the remaining new projects are planned as toll-based projects. MSRDC is already overseeing construction of the missing Mumbai-Pune expressway link (Rs 6,600 crore), the Versova Bandra Sea link (Rs 11,000 crore) and the Thane Creek bridge-III (Rs 800 crore).

Founded in August 1996, the agency had begun with a bang, building India’s first expressway – the Mumbai-Pune expressway – the pet project of then state PWD Nitin Gadkari, who was part of the junior party, BJP, in a Shiv Sena-led alliance.

The portfolio continued to be held by the junior alliance partner in all successive terms till now , leading to the agency always being a “victim” of the tug of war between the allies. However, this time it is being held by the CM’s party, giving it a definite edge.

So much so that last month, a project bolstering Shiv Sena’s Hindutva credentials – that of conservation of ancestral Hindu temples, caves and sculptures, which ought to have ideally gone to the Congress-led PWD, has come MSRDC’s way. “Under normal circumstances, all government building construction related works go to PWD. By assigning this project to MSRDC (led by Sena’s Eknath Shinde), Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has ensured full control,” a source said.

Mopalwar claimed that the foundation of the revival was a 2016 decision of the previous regime permitting it to monetise 23 land parcels, collectively worth Rs 15,000 crore. “This gave lenders the confidence to invest in Samruddhi, which has been an elixir for the agency,” he said. “Land was acquired for the corridor in 2017 and 2018. Construction work began on January 1, 2019 and we are nearing completion.”

Based on a work also awarded by the previous regime, MSRDC, last November, invited bids for the construction of a new GST Bhavan – a 2.73 lakh sq m government office space – at Wadala in Mumbai, which also ought to have gone the PWD’s way.

Sources credit Mopalwar’s administrative acumen and his clout among politicos, bureaucrats and consultants as a reason for the turnaround. The previous regime had reemployed him on contract basis for the same position the day he retired in February 2018, Uddhav government has persisted with him.

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