Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) CEO N Ramaswami talks about the future of water transport networks in Maharashtra, in an interview with The Indian Express.
Have you decided the date by when the Roll On-Roll Off (Ro-Ro) services between Mumbai and Alibaug will start?
The Ro-Ro services between Mumbai and Alibaug will start from the second week of March. We are waiting for time from the chief minister to inaugurate the project. The trial runs for the service will be completed between February 27 and March 4. Hopefully, in the second week of March, commuters can avail the services. It will not only save time for commuters heading to Goa and Konkan but will also decongest road traffic. We are hopeful that nearly 12 lakh commuters will use the Ro-Ro services annually.
There were eight Ro-Ro services planned in (Mumbai Metropolitan Region) MMR and Mumbai. What is the current status of these projects?
Work on constructing jetties for the Ro-Ro services are going on. By June, we will be able to complete the Nerul jetty, which will play an important role in providing water transport connectivity between Navi Mumbai and other regions, including Kalyan, Thane and Mumbai. Apart from this, construction of a jetty in Gorai is also going on at a good pace and will be ready by September this year. Work on six other jetties — Manori, Narangi, Bhayander, Borivali, Belapur and Veldur — will be completed by March 2021.
There was a plan to connect Mumbai and other municipal corporations in MMR through water transport.
The plan to create water transport networks between MMR and Mumbai has been delayed by lack of funds. No one wants to invest in infrastructure required for water transport. The Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) was supposed to prepare a masterplan with 33 routes but, as of now, there is only one route in that circuit, which will start from September this year. This route will connect Navi Mumbai-Kalyan-Mira Road.
Is funding the main problem why these projects are not taking off?
Yes, funds are the biggest issue. That is the main reason why plans to develop water transport has failed since 1978. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) model will not work in terms of creating infrastructure for water transport. Private players will come, operate the ferries but will not invest in creating jetties. For any public transport, infrastructure is the responsibility of the government. No private player will invest Rs 600-800 crore. As per our new plan, we will provide jetties and basic infrastructure for water transport and private players will operate the services. Hopefully, this will attract operators.
Can Maharashtra generate the ridership to attract private operators?
Yes, there is a sizeable demand. In Maharashtra, there are nearly 53 water routes, including international, national and internal routes, which are functional. Every year, nearly two crore commuters travel on these routes. The Mumbai-Alibaug route has a ridership of 12 lakh commuters per annum. Once Ro-Ro services start, the numbers will go up.
MMB also had a plan for water sports in the city and other places.
At Juhu beach, we have water sports. Apart from Juhu, there are 290 places in Maharashtra where water sports are doing well. Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Alibaug and Raigarh are among the top areas where water sports are doing a fantastic job. There are nearly 5,000 people who are engaged in water sports. In Mumbai, once the Mumbai Port Trust completes the cruise terminal, the potential for water sports will further increase.
Any plan to decongest the traffic of Gateway of India?
To decongest Gateway of India, we are working on two new jetties. One at NCPA and one near the radio club. The jetty near NCPA will accommodate most of the traffic for the proposed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue in sea. However, the jetty which will come up near the radio club will ease ferry traffic of Gateway of India by nearly 50 per cent. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mumbai Port Trust for a jetty as well. The new jetty will cost nearly Rs 100 crore and will have the facility of a small cruise terminal.
What are the new plans of MMB to enhance water transport?
There are a few projects going on under the Sagar Mala project. Apart from that, we are talking to a Russian company for hovercraft, which can ply in shallow waters as well. Once we get these boats, we can start water transport even in places like Thane Creek and Vasai Creek. The plan is at a very initial stage, that’s why I can’t comment on the number of boats and funds but within two or three months, will be able to finalise a draft for the same. Apart from hovercraft, one cruise terminal is also in the pipeline at Bhagawati port.
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