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BW Businessworld

Life In The Fast Lane

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Mumbai has seen a revolution in urban infrastructure and transportation in the past two years. In quick succession, the Scomi-built 9-km first phase of the monorail project was commissioned in February this year, followed in June by the city’s first 11.4-km Metro line connecting Oshiwara with Ghatkopar on an east-west axis. Simultaneously, the 17-km Eastern Freeway that provides an easy exit from the city has made life easier for long-distance motorists. These three projects alone involve an outlay of Rs 10,000 crore, and there is more to come.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is the nodal agency driving Mumbai’s infrastructure revolution. Keeping a hawk eye on the execution is metropolitan commissioner U.P.S. Madan. “Never before have we seen so many infrastructure projects come to fruition in such quick succession. It has substantially decongested traffic and made life easier,” he told BW in an exclusive interview.

He gives credit to MMRDA’s concept plan drawn up in the mid-1990s, which studied Shanghai and Singapore’s development and evolved a ‘holistic’ plan, that took into account Mumbai’s needs for the next 40 years. Work on the Rs 23,000-crore Metro Line 3, largely underground, which will provide a central transport spine from Colaba in the south to Seepz in the north-west suburb of Andheri, has already begun. Two other Metro lines are on the anvil, he revealed, and will require another Rs 50,000 crore to be raised.

Mumbai’s projects will get an infusion from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has extended a line of credit to the tune of Rs 13,250 crore for the Metro Line 3 project. Similarly, the 22-km Trans Harbour link that will connect Mumbai to the south-west, and which has been floundering for funds, has also been offered a lifeline by JICA.

Surf’s Up Mumbai has a lot happening on the transport and connectivity front

Where Mumbai has failed though is in providing mass, affordable housing to its citizens. A recent central government survey indicated that of all the metros, Mumbai’s slum density is the worst, with about 43 per cent of the population continuing to eke out an existence in shanties on encroached land and other informal housing. The Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, a brainchild of late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, was in 1995 touted as the answer to the city’s slums, by providing homes to 40 lakh people. Builders were roped in to build rehab housing on encroached plots in lieu of saleable development rights. But the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, which oversees the scheme, instead gained notoriety for offering sweet deals to builders, and nothing to slum-dwellers. Its ‘achievement’ on its website comprises allotting just 1.5 lakh units over two decades.

To make amends, the state government is experimenting with ‘reservation’ of 20 per cent of housing stock for economically weaker sections in projects on plots of one acre and above. The scheme has been notified, but it remains to be seen whether it will make headway.  Some success at decongestion of the Island City has also been achieved by the development of satellite cities. However, this has made travel time and distances increasingly burdensome. The difficulty and high cost of land acquisition have been exemplified in the state government’s inability to develop an alternative airport. This has hampered connectivity and business growth.

In developing a long-term ‘Mumbai Transformation’ plan, an interesting proposal came from the Singapore-based planning consultant, Surbana International. Taking a leaf out of Hong Kong, Singapore and other island cities, Surbana proposed a massive land reclamation effort. Countering sceptics who said it would be too expensive a proposal, Surbana demonstrated how land reclamation would provide premium locations to businesses and generate over $300 billion for Mumbai’s development. Ultimately, environmental and other regulatory issues pushed the proposal to the back burner. But it is high time Mumbai revives such plans to ensure the city’s growth trajectory does not flag.

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-12-2014)