Mumbai: On 11 October, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that the car shed for Mumbai’s costliest Metro rail project will be shifted out of Aarey Colony, after a public movement to save one of the city’s few green lungs.
Civil servants took the project back to the drawing board at a time when 60 per cent of its overall civil work has been completed. The decision will impact the project cost and timelines, but was one that the state government could have taken several years ago and minimised the delays, sources involved in the decision-making process told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, the car shed change is just the latest among a string of challenges that Mumbai’s first proposed underground Metro has had to face right from the inception of the project a decade ago, causing time and cost overruns.
The showpiece Metro line will run through south Mumbai and the city’s centre to connect key destinations such as Bandra Kurla Complex, the airport and the exports district of SEEPZ.
The car shed could finally become a reality in another two and a half years — officials said that’s the timeline the project could require to be developed — if the required approvals come without further delay.
Cost already up 40 per cent
While the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), the government agency implementing the Metro project, hasn’t officially revised the cost of the 33.5-km fully-underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor from the originally estimated Rs 23,136 crore, government sources say the cost has already swelled nearly 40 per cent to about Rs 32,000 crore.
With the latest challenge of a change in the car shed location, the project is also set to miss its 2021 deadline.
While the MMRC declined to comment, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) Metropolitan Commissioner R.A. Rajeev said, “Any car depot to get developed takes about two and a half years. Other activities of the project can go on in parallel in the meantime.”
Rajeev said it is too premature to talk about cost overruns due to a change in the car shed, but the impact will not be as large as is made out to be by detractors of the move.
A source involved in evaluating alternative sites for the car depot said Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray held over a dozen meetings with the MMRDA, the MMRC, officials from the revenue department and experts.
“It was discussed that the cost of the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro project is likely to rise by about Rs 360-400 crore on account of this one change,” he said.
Former CM Devendra Fadnavis has claimed that a car depot change will lead to a cost escalation of Rs 4,000 crore.
Kanjurmarg option was ‘unsuitable’ earlier
The CM Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government decided to relocate the car depot for the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro project to Kanjurmarg, an open land grassland that used to be once a salt pan. The option was always on the table, but was turned down by the erstwhile Fadnavis government, saying it was unsuitable.
A state government official, who didn’t wish to be named, said Kanjurmarg was considered as an option for the car depot even when the project was first being drawn up nine years ago, but the then Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government under Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan decided to provisionally go ahead with the Aarey site. Chavan had also conducted a ground-breaking ceremony for the project in 2014 with the car depot proposed at Aarey.
In April 2012, during a public meeting to hear suggestions and objections on the project, a city-based environmentalist raised an objection to the site of the proposed car shed, but the cause to save Aarey did not gain momentum until 2015.
In 2015, the Fadnavis government formed a technical committee to evaluate alternatives sites, and the panel suggested having an integrated car depot at Kanjurmarg with a small facility at Aarey to take care of the project’s immediate needs. But the Fadnavis government later decided to go ahead with a full car depot at Aarey Colony, requiring the hacking of 2,646 trees on a 30-hectare plot.
The previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led dispensation said the Kanjurmarg land was mired in litigation, marshy and far from the proposed Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro. The same land was, however, proposed as a car shed location for the under-construction Swami Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli elevated Metro line.
The MVA government has now proposed an alternative where the elevated Swami Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli corridor and the underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz corridor share the land for an integrated car shed.
‘Kanjurmarg land was always viable’
While the previous government said the title of the land was unclear, the MVA government has contended that this was never the case. The land has always been with the government and has now been handed over to the MMRDA for a car shed at zero cost.
“We got the decision vetted by all departments concerned — revenue, finance, legal, and finally from the state attorney general,” a state government official privy to the development said.
MMRDA Commissioner Rajeev said, “This land has been in possession of the state government for a long time and has never been in dispute. I don’t know what land people were talking about earlier.”
ThePrint has a copy of the property record for the said land, with a total area of 656 acres, showing the ownership to be with the Maharashtra government. Of this, the revenue department transferred 102 acres, or 41 hectare, to the MMRDA earlier this month for an integrated car depot for the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz and Swami Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli Metro lines.
“The land is ideal. We need a longish land for car sheds for stabling lines etc instead of a square or rectangular land like was the case at Aarey,” Rajeev said, adding the MMRDA will prepare a detailed project report on integrating the two Metro lines.
On Wednesday, former CM Fadnavis leaked a report of an internal panel appointed by the MVA government under Additional Chief Secretary Manoj Saunik that had echoed the previous government’s thoughts on the Kanjurmarg land, advocating that the car depot be retained at Aarey.
“CM Hon Uddhav Thackeray ji says this is a ‘No-Cost’ proposition, but I would say this is a No-Metro proposition,” Fadnavis lashed out at the MVA government on Twitter.
“Because 76 percent tunnelling work for the project is already done but no car depot for next 4 to 5 years will be an endgame for financial feasibility of the project. Needless to say all cost escalations will be borne from passengers’ pocket through tickets,” he added.
𝐂𝐌 𝐇𝐨𝐧 𝐔𝐝𝐝𝐡𝐚𝐯 𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐜𝐤𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐲 𝐣𝐢 𝐬𝐚𝐲𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 ‘𝐍𝐎-𝐂𝐎𝐒𝐓’ 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧, 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐈 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐬𝐚𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐍𝐎-𝐌𝐄𝐓𝐑𝐎 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 !#MVAbetrayMumbaikars
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) October 14, 2020
The MVA government had rejected the Manoj Saunik report.
Other challenges before the project
The metro project has faced several bumps and has always been a political hot potato.
To begin with, the tendering process for the project was stalled for more than a year simply as the state government had to reconstitute the MMRC board to take tender related decisions.
The issue of rehabilitating residents from some of Mumbai’s oldest areas such as Kalbadevi and Girgaum too had turned into a political potboiler with leaders from both the Shiv Sena and the BJP flexing their muscles, demanding a change in alignment. Eventually, a special Rs 700-crore redevelopment plan for the 19 buildings quietened down the political opposition.
The project was also embroiled in a court battle with members of Mumbai’s Parsi community who were seeking a change in alignment as it passes directly under two fire temples and Atash Behrams (sacred fires). The Supreme Court ultimately in December 2018 allowed the MMRC to continue with the tunnelling under the Parsi temples.
Besides, the MMRC had locked horns with some of Mumbai’s most affluent residents living on the southern tip of Cuffe Parade. Work on the project was stalled during night hours for several months as residents complained of noise pollution and took the MMRC to court to hammer out a solution.
The lockdown too affected the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro, impacting the tunnelling work.
Now, Thackeray’s decision to shift the car depot will need the Union urban development ministry’s approval, as the MMRC is a joint venture between the state and the Centre.
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