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Thursday, December 02, 2021

The Link Road to congestion

With Suresh Prabhu as the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, it's not surprising that the Maharashtra government is confident of...

Written by Debi Goenka |
September 26, 1998

With Suresh Prabhu as the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, it’s not surprising that the Maharashtra government is confident of obtaining environmental clearance for the Bandra-Worli Link Road project. In August 1998, an announcement was made by Nitin Gadkari, Public Works Department Minister of Maharashtra, that construction would start in January 1999. Either the environmental clearance has been `fixed,’ or one must congratulate Gadkari for his abilities as an astrologer.

The proposal to construct the West Island Freeway (WIF) has been pending since l986. A study carried out by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) in l994 and their international consultants W S Atkins International indicates that the construction of the WIF would increase traffic congestion at other road junctions in Mumbai.

Their report states: “Tests with the model showed that the effect of major new roads in the island city, such as the West Island Expressway and East Island Expressway, would beto attract considerable additional traffic to south island destinations, and for traffic congestion in the Tardeo, Bombay Central, Opera House, Nana Chowk and Kalbadevi areas to be worsened. Thus these new Expressways would tend to shift the bottlenecks around and have little effect on overall system capacity.”

There is little doubt that the construction of the WIF in a piecemeal manner would further aggravate the problem.

The Bandra-Worli Linking Road project is a small part of the West Island Freeway (WIF) project. The WIF project itself is one component of the proposal to upgrade the road transportation network of Greater Mumbai as per the report prepared by the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) in l980-81.The CRRI report had suggested a number of other schemes, such as the East Island Freeway, the Central Freeway, a large number of east-west link roads, the Bombay-Mainland Link project, etc. The WIF was one component of a comprehensive scheme to improve the road traffic in GreaterMumbai.

Subsequently, the Maharashtra government had set up a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of the chief secretary K N Paranjpe to examine all aspects related to the report.

After detailed deliberations, the Paranjpe committee submitted its report to the government, and the latter accepted it in toto.

The Paranjpe committee had made a number of recommendations about improvement of the road network in Greater Mumbai. It prioritised works that had to be carried out, and categorised projects into short-term, medium-term and long-term ones. Some of the short-term measures suggested were computerising signals, building flyovers at congested junctions, removing road encroachments, and providing smooth and encroachment-free carriageways. Obviously, since none of these measures necessitate spending thousands of crores, none of our ministers is interested in implementing them. Even Pramod Navalkar’s effort to use Senapati Bapat Marg has fallen by the wayside.

As pointed out in the reportprepared by MMRDA/Atkins, the construction of only the Bandra-Worli Link Road would lead to congestion in south Mumbai, which would go against the aims and objectives of the project. In fact, almost all environmental groups in Mumbai have testified before the Paranjpe committee that the construction of the WIF in its entirety would lead to additional traffic flows into south Mumbai and add to congestion. This has been borne out by the Atkins/MMRDA report.

Even Dr P S Pasricha, additional commissioner of police, who has extensively studied traffic problems in Mumbai, has opposed construction of the WIF on grounds of congestion.

The construction of the new Link Road would also cause considerable damage to the ecology and environment of Mumbai’s west coast, particularly since large-scale reclamation would be involved. The proposed reclamation would imply extensive quarrying in the suburbs of Mumbai, leading to further ecological degradation and environmental damage.

The impact of the proposed reclamationon marine ecology and the possibility of triggering off erosion and siltation in other parts of the coast has not even been studied.

There is little doubt that the Maharashtra government will utilise the reclaimed land for commercial and residential development, leading to further congestion.

Since the Bandra fort and the Worli fort are archeological monuments notified by the State Archaeology Department, both these points are to be classified as ecologically sensitive areas, i.e., areas falling within Central Regulation Zone-I. Since no reclamation is legally permitted in these areas, it is not clear how the WIF can be constructed without violating the CRZ notification. Or will RC Sinha, vice-chairman of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation now pursuing the project, who has merrily cut thousands of mangroves along the Eastern Express highway in gross violation of the CRZ notification, do the same for the WIF project?(The author is a member of the Bombay Action Environmental Group)

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