The coalition government in Maharashtra has cost Mumbai dearly. Strained relations between the ruling allies — the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — have stalled several big-ticket infrastructure projects in the last three years and interrupted all efforts aimed at transforming Mumbai into a world-class megapolis.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), headed by the Congress, and the NCP-led Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) have been playing out the turf war on behalf of their political bosses.
The recent public spat between Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and NCP chief Sharad Pawar is only the latest indication of how ugly things have been between the allies.
Last week, Pawar remarked that the CM’s decisions were so much delayed that one wondered whether he was suffering from paralysis. The next day Chavan retorted, “Files that do not fit within the rules take time to clear as we have to figure out how to make them fit under the rules.”
The much-delayed water transport project on the east and west coasts of Mumbai got environment clearances in February and April, respectively, this year. The projects are being implemented by the MSRDC.
For the past five months, the tenders for these projects haven’t been floated because the state cabinet subcommittee on infrastructure, led by Chavan, hasn’t given it the go-ahead.
Chavan recently passed the buck for this delay on to his bureaucracy, pointing out that officials had not put up this file on water transport before him.
“If the CM really wants to speed up projects, he can call for this file. It is in the public interest. The bureaucracy is answerable to him and not vice versa,” pointed out NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik.
It is not just this project. Several others face a similar fate. “The water transport project has been stuck at the level of the chief secretary over some minor alterations. But several other files on transport projects, including sea links, and decisions on them have been pending with the chief minister’s office for months now,’’ said PWD minister Jaydutt Kshirsagar.
The sea link projects —Worli-Haji Ali link and the proposed Bandra-Versova sea link — have been in limbo for over a year. Chavan, however, is rooting for a coastal road, which is yet to get the clearance from the Union environment ministry.
In the meantime, no decision has been taken to scrap the Worli-Haji Ali sea link contract or start the Bandra-Versova sea link, which has already got the green clearance.
“The MSRDC wants to build Worli-Haji Ali on its own but has no financial resources for it. Look how they built Bandra-Worli, splurging public funds on the project. The reason the CM wants a coastal road is because it will come at one-third the cost of these expensive sea links,’’ said a senior bureaucrat on condition of anonymity.
The 22-km Mumbai Transharbour Link (MTHL), another sea bridge that will link the mainland to the island city and open up the hinterland for development, is also gasping for survival with private developers shunning the project. This project was delayed as the MSRDC and MMRDA fought to bag it. By the time the fight was sorted out and the MMRDA was handed the project, the economic slowdown had hit the state.
“Imagine two agencies of the government wasting public money to do feasibility studies and on consultant fees to compete for the same project. The MSRDC was implementing this project from 2005 but the CM in 2011 handed it over to the MMRDA, saying it was better-suited for the purpose,” said a senior official.