The coastal road along Mumbai’s western shoreline was an idea since 2011 when the then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan mooted it. As many projects during his tenure, this one too did not get off the drawing board. Consequently, the skepticism about its impact and repercussions were muted.
Now that the coastal road is poised to become the symbolic project of the Devendra Fadnavis’ government, it is appropriate to take a closer look. He made it his personal mission to procure the long-pending environmental clearance for it. He discussed it with potential investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. He mentions it in presentations on the future of Mumbai.
Only the bare framework about the road is known. Nearly 36 kilometres long between Nariman Point and the western suburb of Kandivli, it will be four-six lanes wide and will have 18 access points. There will be two 3.5 kilometres tunnels and long stretches of it built on land reclaimed from the sea. The specifications could change, of course. In 2011, it was to cost around Rs 6,000 crore; Fadnavis is already saying nearly Rs 10,000 crore. Our trusted Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is to be the nodal authority for the project.
The discussions about the coastal road have been largely confined to posh banquet rooms or high offices such as those of the chief minister or the municipal commissioner. Occasionally, urban planning veterans such as Shirish Patel are invited. “I’m unhappy with the project and I dearly hope it never happens,” he wrote to Commissioner Sitaram Kunte after one such meeting in end January.
Patel, who was part of the group that planned Navi Mumbai, stated that the factors to keep in mind for the coastal road included “its long-term impact on the city, number and income class of people who benefit from it” among others such as funding. He has not received an acknowledgment from Kunte yet. To the extent that many aspects of the project have not been shared with Mumbaiites, questions must be asked.
How does this grand project fit into the larger integrated infrastructure development of the city and how, if at all, does it intersect with other transport projects? Each of Mumbai’s 16-17 agencies draw up independent plans but Mumbaiites commute across the city undivided by such official divisions.
How will the coastal road ease the crush load commute for maximum people? It is well known that the maximum number of commuters use the suburban rail network followed by the BEST bus system. Only a fraction, 10% at best, uses private cars for daily commute.
When Fadnavis repeatedly said 60% of the city’s traffic was on the western stretch, he omitted to explain the figure. If it is 60% of all traffic in the city, then the coastal road will have a limited impact. If it is 60% of car traffic, then it becomes clear who the road is meant for. Then, why should the government commit large amounts of public finance to it?
What is the guarantee that the condition put by the Ministry of Environment and Forest – there should be no real estate development abutting the road – will be adhered to in a city where land sharks of all sizes lie in eternal wait to pounce upon the slimmest chance to build?
Most of all, will the coastal road not aggravate the lopsided development of Mumbai with its western side, especially seafronts, commanding higher prices than all other parts of the city? And, last but not the least, what happens to the original Mumbaiites – the fishing community – living and working along the coast?
It is time Fadnavis and Kunte spoke on these issues too.