The Maharashtra government’s proposed freeway along Mumbai’s west coast, which aims to cut down peak hour traffic jams, was the subject of fervent discussion, especially centred around the efficacy of the Rs 12,000 crore project.
On Monday, Hindustan Times’ ‘Roundtable on the Coastal Road’ brought together various stakeholders in the project, including transport experts, urban planners, face-to-face with civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta, under whom the project will be implemented over the next few years. The result was an informed debate on issues such as environmental concerns, the need for public transport, the trust deficit. It concluded with the BMC chief opening the doors for further debate on the issue.
The experts focused on the need to push public mass transport with urban planners and transport experts panning the project as being car centric, terming the plan’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit System as ‘mere tokenism’. Urban planners also raised the issue of the project’s impact on the environment, with reclamation being allowed in the city after nearly two decades, for this project.
“The entire project is car-centric. Few citizens will use the BRTS to travel from the north-end of the city to the south because there are not many stops on the route and it does not make sense to travel by a bus for shorter distances. Thus, the very basic idea of mass transport is lost,’’ said Ashok Datar, transport activist and conveyer of Mumbai Transport Forum (MTF).
Datar termed the BRTS on coastal road as ‘mere tokenism’, even as he championed the Mumbai Metro as the mass transit option. He said the coastal road will cater to about two lakh citizens only, whereas Mumbai’s first Metro line, built at a cost of Rs 4,000 crore, is being used by more than 2.5 lakh citizens.
Hussain Indorewala, urban planner and assistant professor with Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture said, “We are spending crores of rupees on a project that will cater to only 2% or 3% of the population. We have well-established public transport, but we are moving away from it to promote personal transport.”
However, Mehta said the coastal road project was finalised after adequate studies, taking into consideration the needs of the city’s population as well as increasing the number of private cars. “The resources to be used for this project will not take away from any of the BMC’s development works such as roads or storm water drains. BRTS is of an adequate size, adequate design and is a dedicated route, so on what basis do we call it tokenism?”
Shishir Joshi, CEO of Mumbai First, an initiative of Mumbai Inc to transform the city, agreed the public transport network had to be improved in the city, but felt the coastal road was the need of the hour for a city like Mumbai.
But Darryl D’Monte, former editor and chairperson for the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India (FEJI), said that all over the world, BRTS is built on existing roads and at the cost of private cars. “There are views that Mumbai is congested and we cannot have BRTS. But to decongest the city we need a dedicated route for public transport.”
Addressing the issue of the north-south corridor’s various exits onto the existing arterial roads, which would create congestion and could also lead to floods (with Malad creek being disturbed), Shweta Wagh, urban planner and assistant professor at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture, said, “There will be huge environmental loss because of the project and the coastal road will also increase the risk of flooding.”