Mumbai: Among the development works that the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra had promised to undertake was the fast-tracking of infrastructure projects in Mumbai.
Speaking in the state legislature in March 2016, two years after his government came to power, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the opposition that most showpiece projects that had languished under the previous Congress-NCP government would be completed by 2019. He named the coastal road, the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, the Navi Mumbai airport, and at least three metro lines.
As the Fadnavis government nears the end of its term, while none of the projects are likely to meet the optimistic 2019 deadline, they have made substantial progress over the past four-and-a-half years.
This, Kaustubh Dhavse, the officer on special duty to the CM, said was mainly due to quick approval to mega projects.
“Any project has three phases — conceptualisation, administrative approvals and execution,” Dhavse said. “With regards to the first stage, we largely inherited projects in their preliminary stages. But administratively, the team got approvals for multi-crore projects in the blink of an eye.”
ThePrint reviews the projects and takes stock of their progress.
In 2004, the then Congress-NCP government drew a master plan to build a 146-km metro network in Mumbai by 2021. The plan, however, was put on hold after the first line — eventually made operational in 2014 — suffered inordinate delays.
The current government reworked the plan, gradually approving projects that will eventually equip the Mumbai Metropolitan Region with a 276-km metro network.
While the city, which still has just one metro line running, is nowhere close to having a full network by 2021, six more lines are now under construction. The state government is hoping to complete two of these by July 2020, a third underground corridor partially by 2021 and the rest by 2024.
Showpiece road projects
The plan to have a trans-harbour link connecting Mumbai’s island with the mainland was first conceived in 1970 and approved by the state government in 1996.
The 22-km Sewri-Nhava Sheva road, however, did not take off on a public-private partnership model despite multiple tendering rounds as companies saw the project to be risky. There were also environmental concerns as there was a fear that the project would damage mudflats, home to migratory flamingoes.
During its final days, the Congress-NCP government was considering implementing the project as a cash contract with aid from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The current government expedited the loan agreement and called tenders in 2016. The final forest clearance came in 2017 and work began in 2018. The project is expected to be completed in 2023.
Similarly, the plan for a second international airport at Navi Mumbai dates back to 1997 but differences over the location, land acquisition woes and environment concerns stalled it.
It took nine years, two under the current BJP-led government, for the project to get all the green clearances. Pre-development works are currently underway and the chief minister expects the first flight to take off from the new airport by mid-2020, though aviation experts are sceptical about the deadline.
More reclamation underway
The previous government had proposed the coastal road project as an alternative to an expensive network of sea links to connect Mumbai’s south to its western suburbs in 2011.
The project, however, seemed like a perpetual non-starter as it involved reclaiming land, prohibited under Coastal Regulation Zone norms, as well as due to concerns over the adverse effects of reclamation. Incidentally, Mumbai was built by reclaiming land to connect its seven islands.
The project was stuck until 2015 when the union environment ministry agreed to amend norms after a meeting between Fadnavis and union minister Prakash Javadekar. Work on the first phase of the project (Marine Drive to the Bandra Worli Sea link) started in October 2018. While Fadnavis in his early days was confident about completing the project in 2019, the construction will take four years.
‘War room played a major role’
The ‘war room’, run by senior bureaucrats and officers on special duty in the chief minister’s office, played a major role in pushing through the projects, a senior official said. The war room, which the CM set up in 2015, is a platform to bring the government’s multiple agencies and departments together to resolve hurdles.
“Through the war room, we were able to keep inter-departmental conversations articulate and short,” said the official who is a part of the team that supervises the war room. “There were rigorous reviews, all communication was electronic, we discarded unviable projects and prioritised key works.”
For instance, he said, through the war room the government was able to secure 93 land parcels, including prime plots where political party offices once stood, for the construction of the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz underground metro line in “record time”.
To resolve the environment hurdles, the chief minister’s team held 21 meetings with the environment ministry over four-and-a-half years, handing over a list of at least 10 unresolved issues a day before every meeting, he added.
‘No single government should take credit’
The Congress, however, says that no single government should get credit for the development projects.
“Regardless of the party, no single government should get credit for infrastructure works. The first Metro was inaugurated by us. We were pushing for the Navi Mumbai airport,” Milind Deora, former Congress MP for South Mumbai, told ThePrint last month.
“When you are doing a large project like a metro, coastal road or a new airport, they take time. You have to acquire land, work with religious institutions, shift utility lines of multiple agencies,” he said.
“If you have contributed to it, we will give you credit too,” he added. “If it is a project we initiated and you have helped speed it up, good. But, it is unfair to take credit single-handedly.”
Another senior state Congress leader said, “Our government too did a lot of work in Mumbai such as the metro, eastern freeway, monorail. But, we failed to publicise it all.”
He added that recently he was travelling in a taxi on Mumbai’s Eastern Freeway when the driver praised the road, attributing it to PM Narendra Modi. “I had to tell him that it was my government that built this road,” the leader said.