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Modi says Mumbai’s new infrastructure will be up by 2022, but the past isn’t encouraging

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Bhoomi poojan and ground-breaking ceremonies are used as political platforms; construction often begins much later, and projects still take years to complete.

Mumbai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Navi Mumbai international airport, inaugurated a container terminal of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, and attended the opening ceremony of Maharashtra government’s investment summit in Mumbai Sunday.

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the Navi Mumbai airport, Modi made a commitment that most big-ticket infrastructure projects planned for the metropolis, related to roads, railways and even waterways, would materialise by 2022-23.

“If you come here around 2022-23, you will see that flights will be taking off from here, your cars will be cruising through the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link connector to the airport, work on Mumbai’s double line suburban corridor will have been completed – all projects, whether on rail, water or ground, will be visible around 2022,” Modi said.

“By then, on the other side, the Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial will also be complete. Everything will have changed.”

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, on the other hand, has set a more ambitious deadline of 2019, the year of both Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly polls. Fadnavis said: “We have decided that by December 2019, one terminal building and one runway will be ready to fly flights from here (Navi Mumbai). We have taken up infrastructure projects in Mumbai on a large scale. We are also working on the trans-harbour link.”

Bhoomi poojan but not much thereafter

The assurances seem a bit hollow, considering the track record of infrastructure development in the region, regardless of who has been in power.

Modi himself referred to this while sharing the credit for the Navi Mumbai airport with the previous BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“You have been hearing about this for 20 years. Many politicians would have won elections with the promise of this project, many governments would have been formed, but the airport wasn’t made,” he said.

“The airport was conceived in 1997 during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s reign. When I became PM, I realised that like the Navi Mumbai airport, there are many projects in the country which were announced years ago, politicians went and performed pujas, clicked photos but there has been no progress,” Modi said, adding how he cleared the obstacles using his Pragati portal of tele-conferencing with chief secretaries of states.

However, even the projects that Modi himself has green-lighted aren’t showing great progress. In fact, a look at all such bhoomi poojan ceremonies held for infrastructure projects in and around Mumbai over the last ten years shows that they were used as platforms to campaign for one election or another; that actual construction began much later, and some of these still haven’t been completed.

Politics over bricks and mortar

The last round of bhoomi poojans by Modi in Mumbai on 24 December 2016 was a platform to announce how the BJP-led government was giving Mumbai multi-crore mass transit, road and rail projects. It was held just two months before the Mumbai civic polls.

The projects comprised two elevated Metro lines, one elevated road, two flyovers, a Sewri-Nhava Sheva sea link that will be the main connector to the Navi Mumbai airport, and a bouquet of railway projects clubbed under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) Phase III. Modi also conducted a ‘jal poojan’ for the politically significant mid-sea memorial to Chhatrapati Shivaji amid much fanfare.

Speaking from a stage at the Bandra Kurla Complex, Modi had said: “Friends, you can’t even imagine how much all these projects that are being launched from one single stage today will total in terms of money. The projects which we are starting now are worth Rs 1.06 lakh crore. This must be one of the most significant events in Mumbai’s history, and we have done it.”

However, the present status of these projects is nothing to write home about. Contractors are conduct a pre-construction soil investigation on the Sewri-Nhava Sheva sea link, construction has only just started last week on the DN Nagar-Mankhurd Metro corridor, while the railways have only begun preparatory work on MUTP Phase III. None of the other projects are close to starting actual work. The state government is yet to award the tender for the Rs 3,600-crore Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial, as even the lowest bidder quoted a price much higher than the government’s estimates.

Similarly, in 2015 too, Modi conducted a bhoomi poojan for three Mumbai projects – two elevated Metro lines, the construction of which is underway, and a Dr B.R. Ambedkar memorial at Dadar’s Indu Mills, the actual work on which is still yet to begin.

The event was held on the eve of the assembly elections in Bihar, and the PM used this stage to reach out to the Dalit community and made a strong statement about the government’s intent to continue with quotas during a blazing controversy over BJP’s stand on reservations.

Congress-NCP no better

The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) state government too had a similar track record of bhoomi poojans in Mumbai. Two months before the Maharashtra assembly elections, Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister at the time, conducted two separate foundation-stone laying ceremonies – one for a skywalk in Thane, and the other for the only underground Metro corridor in Mumbai. The latter was also used as an opportunity by the BJP, with then-Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu driving home the BJP-led Union government’s intent to give all assistance required for Mumbai’s development.

While the construction of the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz underground Metro started two years later in October 2016, work on the Thane-Vittawa skywalk started only in 2017.

Previous Congress CMs too had three ground-breaking ceremonies from January 2008 to February 2009, ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections for various projects, including the Mumbai monorail, which is still incomplete.

The same year, ahead of the 2009 Maharashtra assembly elections, the government had two more bhoomi poojan ceremonies, one by former President Pratibha Patil for a Metro project that was ultimately scrapped and given a different form, and another by the CM Ashok Chavan for a portion of the Eastern Freeway and a local flyover in Chembur.

BJP’s defence

BJP’s Keshav Upadhyay, however, said it is not right to look at these events just as project inaugurations.

“There are several issues that the government has taken care of in these projects. For example, in the Shivaji memorial project, there were environmental hurdles. Clearances were pending,” he said.

“For the Indu Mills Dr Ambedkar memorial, the land itself was not in the state government’s possession to build the memorial. We sorted out all these issues.

“We don’t look at projects just as platforms for bhoomi poojans. We are concerned about issues and work on them,” he added.

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  1. May all these projects be completed soon. We Mumbaikars, especially those on its southern tip, feel that half the fisc rests on our shoulders …

  2. Nehru ne esaa kaun saa badaa kaam kar diyaa ?Aaj ki 99% samasyaa usi ki dee hui hai.Desh me itane natural resources hote huye bhi desh pichhada huaa hai naa paani & bijali hai aur naa hi dhang ki roads hai.Cold storage ke baare me to usane sochaa hi nahi.Noble prize ke bhagvaan me rahaa aur Kashmir ,chintaa ki samasyaa paal li.

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