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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Allies,but not building bridges

For a city originally gifted away as a Portuguese princess’s dowry,modern day Mumbai is a bristly inheritance,as Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is no doubt discovering.

Written by Kavitha Iyer |
April 6, 2010 1:41:27 am

For a city originally gifted away as a Portuguese princess’s dowry,modern day Mumbai is a bristly inheritance,as Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is no doubt discovering. Everybody agrees that Mumbai has never been so decrepit,and now even its icons can’t be untouched by its petty politics.

Not only was there an unseemly discomfiture over the invitation of a national icon,Amitabh Bachchan,to the inauguration of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link,but the Congress-NCP coalition also put on public display the thornier side of its relations,with Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal asking Chavan for speedier clearing of files about rebuilding. But the state’s recently announced budget has little for Mumbai,apart from hitching its wagon to the stars: a Bollywood museum,a Sachin Tendulkar museum.

The story of rebuilding Mumbai’s infrastructure,from storm-water drains and water supply to affordable housing and adequate transportation systems,is now little more than a tale of delays and missed deadlines; many have turned victim to the less than cordial relations between the ruling parties. While the chief minister heads the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA),the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has been traditionally controlled by the NCP. The two have been in a protracted tug-of-war over key city projects: the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link,which has been in the pipeline since the ’70s,and on MSRDC’s design boards for over a decade,will now be executed by the MMRDA. A proposed revamp of the slice of South Mumbai that houses state administrative headquarters,for which the NCP-controlled Public Works Department even invited and received tenders,will now be subsumed in a revamp for all 180 acres of Nariman Point,executed by the MMRDA — the recently-appointed Special Planning Authority for all of the Backbay Reclamation,including South Mumbai’s famous business district.

NCP ministers’ complaints about Chief Minister Chavan’s appetite for personally taking decisions on all key matters are at least partially true too: the contract to build the Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link,a critical extension to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link,was kept pending for a year,till the evening before the winning bid’s validity was to expire. Contracts for the Mantralaya revamp and the redevelopment of a 100-acre colony of government flats in upmarket Bandra were almost ready for announcement until Chavan put them both on hold before the elections.

The rivalry is unsurprising. The MTHL is estimated to cost about Rs 10,000 crore; the Mantralaya precinct makeover was pegged at Rs 1,400 crore — before being brushed aside to make way for an inexplicable Nariman Point makeover that will cost about Rs 3,500 crore (not counting the conservative estimate of Rs 12,500 crore the “government” stands to gain from selling space.) The 100-acre Bandra Government Colony redevelopment is to cost Rs 2,400 crore.

What has appeared to be a bouquet of funding models for various projects was actually wild see-sawing by the state government from the PPP model to traditional contracts. The MMRDA vows to build the remaining eight Metro corridors on the “DMRC model”,but a series of flip-flops ensued and the government returned to the PPP model for the second route. A third route could follow the DMRC’s “Airport Link model’,with the MMRC funding civil infrastructure while rolling stock,signalling and operation/ maintenance will be funded through private equity.

The Mumbai Trans-Harbour Sea Link saw a similar saga: acrimonious litigation that ended with the Supreme Court stating that the state government had not applied its mind in disqualifying the REL-led consortium,followed by the government stating that the consortium’s bid being “too unrealistic”,the bridge would be built by government agencies. Ditto for all other key projects: the bidding process for the Rs 15,000 crore Dharavi redevelopment remains stalled,five years on,while seven consortia await key government decisions. All the road and rail components of the showcase Mumbai Urban Transport Project were to have been complete by April 2008. The fresh deadline,revised several times over,is now June 2011. The Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project for roads and flyovers was one of the key culprits for the flood waters not receding for two days following the deluge of July 26,2005 — MUIP contractors had been repeatedly warned that the drains along arterial roads were clogged with debris. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was to see an expansion and decongestion project take off by December 2007. Consultants are still fine-tuning plans. The Mahatma Gandhi Pathkranti Yojana to rehabilitate pavement-dwelling families,which should have moved 25,000 families by April 2008 has rehabilitated 861 families until mid-March. The water transport project,for hovercrafts and boats connecting Nariman Point with Borivali and Ferry Wharf with Nerul were both to be ready for use by the end of 2006. The project,with the MSRDC until now,is now being eyed by the MMRDA.

Despite it all,Mumbaiites get it right each time,bouncing back famously after every flood and railway breakdown. But for officials and politicians to get it right,they have to keep their nose to the grindstone,and then admit that the city,and its politics,stinks.

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