Until very recently, it was impossible to travel from south Bombay to Navi Mumbai in less than two hours. Now, it takes just 30 minutes, essentially due to the Eastern Freeway which can take you from one end of the metropolis (Carnac Bunder) to the other (Chembur) in just nine minutes.
That freeway was a revolutionary idea, formulated by the government of Vilasrao Deshmukh in 2000, along with the metro and mono rail cutting across various parts of the metropolis, thus altering the landscape forever.
When Deshmukh first took power in 1999, he unveiled a plan for enhancing the infrastructure of the city, which included the Bandra-Worli sea link that had got stuck because of engineering flaws – the previous government’s design was bound to submerge the Chaitya Bhoomi in Dadar and there were protests. But before they could go back to the drawing board, the Shiv Sena-BJP was out of power and it was left to the incoming Congress-NCP government to redesign and implement the project.
The Sena-BJP had given to the state capital 55 flyovers that saved the city from collapse. So when Deshmukh became chief minister, he decided he would do something even more spectacular for Bombay. Conscious of the criticism that past Congress chief ministers had ignored the city for Western Maharashtra (from where most of them hailed), Deshmukh had then said, “My term will be dedicated to improving the infrastructure in Mumbai and making life for the common man easier. People will remember what we did for them long afterwards.”
Much of the present government’s grandiose plans for the city are a spill over from the drawing boards of the previous government, but Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s recent statement brought to me a sense of déjà vu. In Nagpur, this weekend, he echoed Deshmukh, “People of Mumbai will remember what a person from Nagpur did for the city.”
I am certain the BJP-led government will ensure that the people do remember whatever their government does for the city – unlike the Congress which could never adequately claim ownership of their projects, like the Eastern Freeway or even the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. I recall this was originally Sharad Pawar’s vision.
As the chief minister of Maharashtra, he was once attempting to fly by helicopter to attend an important meeting in Bombay. But the headwinds were such that the chopper just could not scale the Western Ghats despite several attempts, even after dumping much of his baggage, including a minister and some fuel. It took him nearly six hours by road to reach the capital. That is when he decided he must have a road that would take people from Pune to Bombay in three hours or less.
But his government got stuck in rehabilitation issues for displaced villagers and before these could be resolved, the Congress was out of power. The incoming government bulldozed the objections of the villagers and cleared the hurdles, but the expressway was later completed by the Deshmukh government. However, neither Pawar as the chief minister who conceptualised it nor Deshmukh who opened it to the public ever laid claim to India’s first high speed six-lane expressway as the interim minister in charge – then Maharashtra’s Public Works minister — Nitin Gadkari does.
The Eastern Freeway and the metro rail projects were similarly abandoned by the Congress in terms of ownership, but I am sure Fadnavis and the BJP will do no such thing with whatever they do for the city. However, I do not think the Shiv Sena will allow Fadnavis to claim much credit. After his statement, unsigned posters came up in parts of the city critical of Fadnavis’s claim and saying that ‘someone from Mumbai would do a better job and keep Maharashtra united’ – a barb on the BJP’s position on a separate Vidarbha.
But since Fadnavis was making the statement in Nagpur, which is also up for civic elections in February, the people of the State’s winter capital, to which he belongs, have not been amused either. The people of Nagpur are looking up to Fadnavis and Gadkari to lift the city out of the backwoods, but are already disappointed that despite two such powerhouses belonging to their city, Nagpur, did not make it to the Union government’s list of smart cities.
The Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway, Fadnavis’s pet project, is also stuck for rehabilitation issues and residents of Nagpur are beginning to grumble as those from Latur did with Deshmukh, “Why Mumbai? Why not your constituency first?”
I guess only parties in government change. Their attitudes remain the same.