Two developments have taken place regarding Mumbai’s infrastructure last week.
First, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) refused to clear Mumbai coastal road project citing several flaws in the proposed project that would link south Mumbai with Malad in the western suburbs via a road along the city’s western coast. Second, trials for the Mumbai monorail’s (yeah, it is still running), second phase have started. While the state and city authorities are gung-ho over both these projects, questions are being raised over their utility for a larger population considering the kind of public money being spent on these projects.
Transport experts are pointing out that the Rs12,000 crore coastal road will not solve the traffic congestion problem beyond a limit. In case of Rs3,000 crore monorail, the less said the better.
India’s first monorail was launched with much fanfare in February 2014. However, the Chembur to Wadala (first phase) route is of hardly any use for majority of Mumbai commuters. Naturally, the daily ridership is poor (about 18,000 every day) and it is being jokingly called tourist train by Mumbaikars. Often questions are being asked over the utility of the project. Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the agency that is building the monorail, is now expecting to complete the work on second phase (Wadala-Jacob Circle) and make it operational early next year. Nobody knows whether the ridership will increase after that.
Controversies over both the projects indicate what needs to be done while building our transport infrastructure. Fifteen years ago, the state government launched a bouquet of infrastructure projects under its Mumbai makeover initiative. It included metro, monorail, road links such as the eastern freeway, sealink, water transport, new fleet of suburban trains and promoting private cabs. Some of them are ready and in use, some under-construction, while the remaining such as water transport have proved to be a non-starter. The projects such as Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR) and the eastern freeway have provided relief to some extent, but have not solved the congestion problem completely. Maybe, it is time to step back and look what is needed for the city, what kind of projects should be taken up on priority and what should be taken off the list.
Urban planners and transport experts are repeatedly pointing out that the focus of the infrastructure development in Mumbai needs to be the public transport due to the nature of the city. Every day, millions of commuters travel to their workplaces from their homes in and around Mumbai. Majority of them (about 75 lakh) use the suburban railway network followed by the BEST buses (25 lakh), autos and taxis.
Comparatively, a much smaller number of Mumbaikars use cars for daily commute. This is why building a network of mass transport system such as metro should be the government’s priority, the experts opine. The MMRDA has planned eight new lines as part of the metro master plan, covering over 170 km. If the government sets a deadline of five to ten years to get them completed, Mumbai will be a much better place to travel after a decade.
Experts like Ashok Datar of Mumbai Environmental Social Network insist that the authorities should also strengthen the BEST bus service, which is still the second largest means of commute for the city.
Alternatively, the government also needs to decongest the city by building Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (Sewree-Nhava sealink), Navi Mumbai airport and speed up the process to develop new commercial centres in Navi Mumbai-Raigad belt. These projects will not just decongest Mumbai, but will also provide new growth centres for the state. For the same purpose, it would make more sense to take up construction of Virar-Alibaug multi-modal corridor as a priority project instead of the coastal road.
At a time when the authorities are excited over the concept of smart cities, it is time rethink at about the ongoing infrastructure plans and set our priorities right.