The 22-km long Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL), that has been stuck at the planning stage for three decades, got a major boost on Tuesday with the most crucial nod for the project coming from the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA).
The DEA has given an in-principle nod to finance 20% of the project. The MTHL will connect the island city from Sewri to the mainland at Nhava Sheva. Another piece of good news for the ambitious project is the green nod from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The DEA nod came post a marathon meeting with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) officials. The DEA is the first, but the most crucial tier, of the three-tier clearance process to get viability gap funding (VGF), which is a one-time grant provided to make the project more viable for the private developer. The DEA recommendation to grant Rs1,920 crore with a concession period of 35 years will now be considered by an Empowered Committee, and finally the finance minister.
Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) officials said with the DEA clearance in the bag, the remaining approvals would no longer be a challenge.
“The DEA has recommended that MTHL be given VGF at Rs1,920 crore with a concession period of 35 years. This is a big decision. But, we will have to wait for the final approval from the finance minister to go ahead with the bidding,” said MMRDA commissioner Rahul Asthana.
Once the finance minister clears the VGF, MMRDA can provide request for proposal documents to five short-listed consortia, which will finalise design, technical and financial bids.
The environment nod was given by the Centre’s expert appraisal committee at its meeting in September, but was confirmed after the minutes of the meeting were finalised this week.
The green go-ahead comes with 11 conditions that MMRDA has to comply with including replanting of five times the mangroves destroyed, noise containment barriers to minimise impact on migratory birds, no dredging and reclamation and so on.
The DEA at its last meeting had asked the state to check if MTHL could be treated as a road project and if the concession period proposed by MMRDA of 45 years be reduced to 30 years.
MMRDA officials pointed out that MTHL was a greenfield project and a sea link, hence the risk involved for a concessionaire was greater than for a road project.