The fire that reduced four floors of Mantralaya to ashes has now brought into focus the long-pending proposal to restructure the building from where the state is governed.
Over the past two decades, several plans have been proposed and discussed. Some were linked to reducing congestion in south Mumbai’s business district. When Navi Mumbai was first planned, for instance, with the aim of creating a new business district to decongest Bombay, there had been talk of moving the state headquarters to CBD, Belapur, probably to the spot now occupied by Konkan Bhavan, the headquarters of the state government’s Konkan division. There was also a plan to shift some Mantralaya offices to Bandra. Neither plan went beyond the discussion stage.
Later, during his tenure as chief minister, Sharad Pawar had proposed that a government complex be built around the existing Mantralaya building, stretching all the way to Vidhan Bhavan and incorporating the Shipping Corporation of India and State Bank of India buildings, with those offices given alternative plots in the new business district of Bandra-Kurla Complex. In this proposal, the buildings were to be connected by underground tunnels, helping to decongest Mantralaya and finally allowing the government to accommodate all its Mumbai offices in one complex.
But this plan did not materialise either, probably because the managements of the other buildings were not keen to shift out of Nariman Point.
Over the past few years, yet another plan was discussed. This one proposed to demolish the bungalows given to ministers along Madam Cama Road, opposite Mantralaya, and build two towers there. The Mantralaya building itself was to be redeveloped as a taller structure with centralised air-conditioning and rearranged interiors.
This plan also proposed to shut Madam Cama Road to traffic and turn it into a promenade, with a flyover above it connecting Nariman Point and Marine Drive.
The project would cost an estimated Rs 1,200 crore and was supposed to be executed by a private developer who would, in exchange, get the right to build a tower in the same area, which he could then sell on the open market.
Obviously, this is where the plan stalled — how would they select the developer? The Congress did not want a private developer selected by the Public Works Department (PWD), which is run by their ally-cum-rival, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
So NCP chief Sharad Pawar suggested that the government rebuild Mantralaya itself. But even if chief minister Prithviraj Chavan agrees to this proposal, there is likely to be a tussle over which department will do the rebuilding — the PWD, or the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, headed by the Congress CM.
A final decision is unlikely any time soon — such dilly-dallying has become a hallmark of the Congress-NCP government in the state. The average citizen, of course, doesn’t much care either way — as long as the redevelopment doesn’t become yet another sinkhole swallowing up public money and redirecting it to anonymous netas and builders.