The Mumbai Trans-Harbour Sea Link (MTHL) is a comprehensive object-lesson on why infrastructure projects flounder in India. The project was conceived as early as 1960,to connect Sewri in Mumbai with Nhava in Navi Mumbai over a 22-kilometre stretch. In this long interim,every conceivable objection,from the government,from civil society and the judiciary,should have been addressed. And yet,the project is still stuck at the planning stage. Even as other BRIC nations built marquee bridges like Chinas Qingdao Trans-Oceanic Bridge,MTHL has just hopped from file to file.
Given that Mumbai is a slender island,the MTHL project is arguably the only way to ease its urban gridlock. Indias premier city is stuck with cramped social and economic infrastructure. The only room to grow lies across the bay,once the bridge is in place. In most countries,this would have been a project of strategic importance. That it has been put off for decades only shows how various political parties have merely toyed with it. This is remarkable,because there is no entrenched oppositon to the the project from any interest group the delay stems entirely from bureaucratic apathy. None of the objections,from any quarter,have questioned the usefulness of the project. And yet,MTHL remains a non-starter.
This June,the 9,360-crore project landed up at the National Green Tribunal,which claimed environment questions were at stake because the Sewri mudflats were home to hundreds of migratory birds like flamingos. The reason why the project went to the tribunal at all is because a decade-old clearance given by the environment ministry had lapsed. No construction has begun,and there was enough time for a PIL to be filed. Meanwhile,as this paper reported,the Union finance ministry has moved in. The ministry objects to the period of concession (45 years rather than 30),the plan to develop a customised bid agreement with the builders and the right to charge a congestion fee as traffic mounts. Strangely,all these objections have arisen after the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority went in for bidding this year,at the prodding of the tribunal. One has to wonder why these issues couldnt have been resolved in the 42 years that the bridge has been contemplated.