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2022 could be year Mumbai begins to shed ‘under-construction’ look, authorities have a plan

Major projects such as Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link & underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro taking shape in city. With Covid hitting work, Mumbai has become jungle of concrete & iron.

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Mumbai: For nearly half a decade now, Mumbai has been a maze of construction sites due to several multi-crore infrastructure projects going on that promise to ease its traffic woes. 

However, to ensure that the city is less cluttered by construction in the new year, government authorities are trying to speed up some projects. 

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which is implementing the bulk of these works, has put in place an “acceleration plan” to pare the setback to various projects caused by delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Major projects such as the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL) connecting Sewri to Nhava Sheva, a coastal road being built from Marine Drive to Worli by reclaiming land, an underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro, and around nine other Metro lines a combination of elevated and underground are taking shape on Mumbai’s overcrowded roads. 

The two Covid waves through 2020 and 2021 hit almost all these showpiece works with labour shortages, supply-chain issues and delays in coordinating with international experts critical to various components of these projects.  

As a result, the city has become a jungle of concrete and iron. Arterial roads have been narrowed for traffic using barricades, countless buildings are covered in scaffoldings, and large cranes and construction workers shuffle around the streets. 

“A lot of these projects have multiple issues, starting from working amid day-to-day traffic, to getting the right of way, finding car depots etc. All these projects have been under construction for the last 4-5 years now. People have suffered a lot,” S.V.R. Srinivas, metropolitan commissioner at the MMRDA, told ThePrint.

“Hopefully, 2022 will be the year when the deliveries can begin,” he added. 

Also read: Infra projects to boost connectivity in 129 villages around Mumbai, MMRDA wants planning rights

The ‘acceleration plan ‘

In 2022, the MMRDA hopes to commission two elevated Metro lines in the western suburbs one 16.5-km line from Dahisar East to Andheri East along the Western Express Highway, and the other from Dahisar to D.N. Nagar in Andheri West, spanning 18.5 km. 

The construction of the two elevated Metro corridors had started in 2016 and the original deadline for these projects was set as 2019 by the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led state government.

The MMRDA was eventually hoping to commission the lines by around May 2021, but the challenges due to the pandemic and lingering right-of-way issues threw the projects out of gear.

For the two Metro lines and the 22-km Sewri-Nhava MTHL, the construction of which is with the MMRDA, the authority has put in place an “acceleration plan” that involves working in multiple shifts and on multiple fronts parallelly, rather than sequentially. 

Srinivas said they are calling it a “catch-up plan”. 

“We have asked contractors to employ more labour at one time and work almost round the clock in shifts. Contractors are focusing on multiple work sites at once. We are also tackling the various components of the project in parallel wherever possible, rather than waiting for one thing to get over and then moving on to the next,” he added.

“On MTHL, our labour is working on the high seas in three shifts, with work going on 24/7. Early 2021, the deadline for MTHL was being projected as 2024-end. We are now trying to complete it by 2023-end,” he further said. 

The MTHL, touted to be the country’s longest sea link, will be the main connector from Mumbai to the under-construction Navi Mumbai International Airport, and is also expected to boost commercial and residential development in Navi Mumbai. 

Commercial operations at the Navi Mumbai airport are likely to begin in December 2024. The City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) which is implementing the project in a public-private partnership completed the pre-development works, involving hill cutting and diversion of a water body, required for the construction of the airport in 2021.

The concessionaire, the Adani Group, started its share of the work at Navi Mumbai airport in August. 

In 2021, the MMRDA also started work on a connector to the MTHL (at Sewri) from Worli, effectively connecting the trans-harbour link to the western suburbs through the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, and south Mumbai through the coastal road. Worli is where the coastal road and sea link meet. 

According to Srinivas, in 2022, the MMRDA will also accelerate work on some other Metro lines under construction such as the 23.64-km D.N. Nagar-Mandale line, the 15-km Swami Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli line, and the 32-km Wadala-Kasarvadavali line, among others. 

Also read: A first in India: Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link to have special decks to make longer-span bridge

Deadline for first fully-underground Metro in limbo

In 2021, construction of the 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro gathered pace.

The project, work on which started in 2017, has seen completion of 70 per cent of the total civil work, with 97 per cent of the underground tunnels having been bored, Ranjit Singh Deol, managing director (MD) of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), the implementing authority of the project, told ThePrint. 

Work on 11 stations — Cuffe Parade, Vidhan Bhavan, Churchgate, Hutatma Chowk, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Mumbai Central, Siddhivinayak, Mumbai airport’s Terminal 2, Marol, MIDC, Seepz — is said to be 85 per cent complete.

The construction of 10 more stations — Mahalaxmi, Science Museum, Worli, Dadar, Dharavi, BKC, Vidyanagari, Santacruz, Terminal 1 of Mumbai airport, and Sahar Road — is 75 per cent done.

Work on five other stations — Girgaon, Kalbadevi, Grant Road, Shitaladevi, Aacharya Atre Chowk — is at the 50 per cent completion mark. 

“It is noteworthy that two trains are ready, another is in process and more than 15 per cent of the tracks have already been laid, which means work is progressing,” Deol said. 

The fate of the project, however, currently hangs in the balance, with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance government having decided that it wants to move the car depot for the line from its original location, the ecologically sensitive Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon.

The location of the car depot for the metro project has been a bone of contention between estranged allies — Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, which leads the MVA government, and the Opposition BJP, which is in power at the Centre.

The Thackeray-led state government had decided to move the car depot to a plot in Kanjurmarg, but the Centre has stalled the move, claiming ownership of the land. The matter has been in the Bombay High Court since December last year, and is still sub-judice. 

Coastal road reclamation almost done, fishermen’s protest major challenge 

The infrastructure project that was least impacted by the pandemic was the coastal freeway from Marine Drive to Worli. 

For other infrastructure projects, reverse migration of labour during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 considerably slowed down the pace of work. But reclamation of land for the costal road progressed well as it was not very labour-intensive. 

As 2022 begins, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has almost completed the reclamation required for the project, with works such as construction of sea walls likely to be wrapped up by June. 

The coastal road includes the country’s first undersea tunnel with a diameter of 40 feet. The BMC expects the tunneling to be completed by January or February 2023, Ashwini Bhide, additional municipal commissioner, told ThePrint. 

Bhide said that, overall, the project is likely to be completed by December 2023. The deadline, she said, is conditional to BMC being able to resolve the woes of fishermen who are protesting against the project, hampering work on an interchange that will connect the coastal road to the Worli-end of the sea link. 

“The protesting fishermen are insisting that the span (distance between two pillars) be 200 metres long, which is not logical. We have kept three spans of 60 metres for navigation. We have met all regulatory compliances, but during construction there can be some livelihood loss. We have employed the Tata Institute of Social Sciences to study this and have also shown our willingness to give them ad hoc compensation,” Bhide added.

“The agitation by the fishermen remains the only major challenge in the project that needs to be resolved in 2022. If it is not resolved, the coastal road will not connect to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link,” Bhide said. 

‘Figures would have been better without pandemic’

Barring the coastal road, all infrastructure projects in Mumbai were hit by a severe labour shortage on account of Covid-19. There was a scarcity of skilled workers and technicians for specialised work, while workers tested positive for Covid. 

MMRDA metropolitan commissioner Srinivas said they undertook a special drive and accelerated the vaccination of their workers. 

“Now most of them are double-vaccinated. Secondly, technical people were working from abroad. That was a big constraint to remotely work without meeting them, especially for the two lines that are to be commissioned in 2022. They were here only 10 per cent of the time,” he added.

Delivery of components, especially those coming from foreign countries such as Taiwan, Japan, and Malaysia, was also delayed, Srinivas said. 

MMRC MD Deol said that despite Covid, they have executed works worth more than Rs 5,000 crore between April 2020 and December 2021. 

“The project has progressed even during this period, but a lot of effort and planning has gone into it. We may state that sans pandemic the project figures could have looked much better than what they appear,” he added.

While the authorities are looking forward to ramping up work and starting inaugurations of certain projects in 2022, their optimism comes with a note of caution. 

“Let us not forget, the pandemic continues and it made us and the project suffer. There will be restrictions on work, manpower, skilled workforce, supply chains, experts and general speed of the work,” said Deol.

“People are affected psychologically and are weary of unknown fears. But despite these limitations, all stakeholders are committed to deliver their best and keep the progress going,” he added.

This is an updated version of the report.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also read: Mumbai’s Rs 14,262 crore trans-harbour link may get more expensive over design changes, delays


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