Twelve years ago, the Congress-NCP government gave Mumbai a gleam of hope with a master plan. Travelling around the city need not be uncomfortable, the plan promised. By 2021, a 146-km Metro line will provide weary commuters an alternative to crowded locals.
Now, five years to deadline, there is one 11.4-km Metro connecting just three suburbs, Versova, Andheri and Ghatkopar. You, the commuter, are still travelling in the city’s crowded locals and buses, packed like sardines in a tin. The BJP-Shiv Sena coalition in power, has drawn up a fresh master plan. The deadline, the same 2021. The chief minister may have bitten off more than he can chew with the aggressive deadline, but experts feel Mumbai’s Metro dreams may finally come true — if the focus is on both meeting deadlines (two corridors have a 2019 deadline, ahead of the Assembly polls) and ensuring the corridors will be of use to the city.
New plan versus the old
The 2004 plan was to build nine corridors at Rs19,000 crore. The state decided to take up the projects one at a time, owing to the want of funds. It was against borrowing and preferred a public private partnership. The BJP-led government’s new plan, said GR Madan, a Metro rail expert and former director, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), is different from the 2004 plan in three ways to speed up construction. “First, the state has decided to build all corridors simultaneously. Second, it wants to spend its own money and borrow. Third, only one line is underground.” The original plan had been revised several times when the government tried to implement it; it proposed a mix of elevated and underground lines and more north-south than east-west lines. The plan screeched to a halt after the first corridor suffered delays, with constant tiffs between the state and private concessionaire. The new plan proposes six lines at Rs76,377 crore. The state plans to execute it all at once by borrowing money from international agencies. And, while there is an attempt to add more east-west lines, the network is still predominantly aligned to connect the city to the northern suburbs.
Four Metro lines have been approved by the Cabinet. Work on three is underway — the first phase (Dahisar to DN Nagar) of the 42km line from Dahisar-Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd; the 33.5km Colaba-Bandra-Seepz underground line and the 16.5km Dahisar East-Andheri East line.
The state has approved the 32-km Wadala-Ghatkopar-Thane-Kasarvadavali line, and is expected to appraise a 24-km Thane-Bhiwandi-Kalyan line and the 14.5-km Lokhandwala-Jogeshwari-Vikhroli-Kanjurmarg line. When ready, the network will cater to 8 million people a day, more than the suburban railway, the CM said. The state is planning an in-house body, on the lines of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), to solely take care of operating Mumbai’s metro network. Beyond the master plan, the Fadnavis government is considering a proposal to extend the metro to Mira-Bhayander; a line to Taloja-Shilphata-Dombivli-Kalyan that will connect MMRDA’s Thane-Bhiwandi-Kalyan Metro with the 23.4km Belapur-Taloja-Pendhar-Khandeshwar corridor being constructed by CIDCO. A plan for a line from the proposed Navi Mumbai airport to the international airport at Sahar is being revived. “Such a network will cater to the entire city’s needs. Once done, we will focus on creating 290km of metro lines for Mumbai Metropolitan Region. DMRC is advising us,” said UPS Madan, MMRDA commissioner.
Now, the problems
Experts worry the state, with its focus on speedy construction, may end up building lines that are not easily accessible, and at spots with less demand. “Ideally, people should be able to walk to the station. The state has, however, taken some short cuts while planning alignment for quick implementation. It does not make sense to have a Metro network along an arterial highway either,” said Ashok Datar, head of Mumbai Environment Social Network. Datar is referring to the 16.5km Dahisar East-Andheri East metro that will be built along the Western Express Highway — where there are few residential properties. The alignment is parallel to the WR line, which may lead to duplication. The state has projected a daily ridership of 5.28 lakh, but for these reasons, experts are skeptical. “Around 10km of this line is close to Sanjay Gandhi National Park, where there are fewer residences. The little hope we had of smooth traffic on Western Express Highway, or of a bus corridor there, is gone,” said architect Nitin Killawala. Datar also questioned the need for so many corridors. “The priority should be improving locals. Only when that is not possible, should we think of a Metro,” Datar said.
Not aligned to growth?
Another issue with the plan is the areas they connect. Half the lines run between north and south when Mumbai already has three railway lines, four roads and a proposed coastal road connecting these areas. Today, more people travel from east to west, with commercial hubs sprouting up in new areas. Horizontal commuting should be the focus, say experts. Further, the proposed corridors do not blend with public transport systems at key places, which means the idea of Metros and locals being feeders for each other falls flat. Dadar’s Metro station will be a kilometre away from the suburban line. Wadala’s Metro station won’t be near Wadala railway station, but near Bhakti Park monorail station, which has negligible ridership.Blending the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar line with other modes was an afterthought; authorities are more serious about integrating systems this time.
Where’s the money?
As the state wants to implement them simultaneously, projects are being started without tying up finances first. MMRDA’s Madan, said Japan International Cooperation Agency, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), are keen on funding the metros. “ADB is reviewing a line that has cabinet approval, World Bank is appraising another corridor. We are awaiting nods from the Department of Economic Affairs. MMRDA has funds to repay loans,” Madan said. Starting projects before finalising loans may speed them up, but they carry the risk of getting stalled if loans fall through.
The underground question
Back in 2011-12, after the tiresome experience of building the first corridor, the government took a policy stand of not building any more elevated lines. But when Fadnavis took over, he was advised underground lines come with ginormous price tags and he decided to build them all as elevated lines, racing to complete as many as possible before his term ends in 2019.
But the CM’s decision has not gone down well with activists and experts, especially those who live along the proposed routes. Organised under the ‘Apna Mumbai Abhiyan,’ the activists have been striving for all lines to be built underground. Some of them living in Juhu-Vile Parle were instrumental in making the previous government abandon the elevated Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd line. Killawala, associated with the Apna Mumbai Abhiyan, said, “It is a myth that elevated corridors take less time to construct. In a brownfield environment (where land has been used for property and commercial purposes) like Mumbai’s, elevated corridors will see several hurdles such as crossing congested roads and railway lines. The CM is reluctant to even meet us for a discussion.” The plan is in place. It’s ambitious and there are hurdles, but good execution could mean a new-age of travel for the Mumbai commuter.