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Wait for 13-minute zip still on

The last three years has seen two major infrastructure projects — the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link and the Worli Haji Ali Sea Link — being stalled by bureaucratic apathy displayed by the state body overseeing their construction.

mumbai Updated: Dec 03, 2011 01:34 IST
Zeeshan Shaikh

The last three years has seen two major infrastructure projects — the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link and the Worli Haji Ali Sea Link — being stalled by bureaucratic apathy displayed by the state body overseeing their construction.

In the case of the sea link, the reluctance of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) to address concerns of Reliance Infrastructure, as well as the contractor’s refusal to accept MSRDC’s promises on face value, has delayed the construction the sea link extension to Haji Ali, which would have cut down the hour-long ride from Bandra to Worli through 27 signals to a 13-minute zip.

One of the key demands of Reliance has been the handing over of the casting yard at Bandra for storing construction material. The MSRDC, however, maintains the requirement is not part of the concession agreement. It has asked Reliance to make its own arrangements, or pay commercial rent of Rs100 crore annually to the civic body, which owns the land.

The last straw that appears to have broken the camel’s back was delivered in the form of a letter written by municipal commissioner Subodh Kumar on November 2 stating that the land is required for the civic body’s own projects.

Reliance also wants a support agreement from the state government assuring that it will pay the Rs1,392 crore viability gap funding (public contribution to make the project profitable for the developer) if the MSRDC, which is in a precarious financial condition, defaults. This demand has also not been met.

Interestingly, Reliance has been insisting on an approval in writing from the state government even after chief secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar assured it that the VGF will be paid.

MSRDC vice chairman and managing director Bipin Shrimali said on Friday: “The handing over of the casting yard land is not part of the agreement between us. Moreover, we have repeatedly told Reliance that we will pay the VGF, but they are still unwilling to start work.” He also gave the contractor a January deadline to commence construction, failing which the contract will be cancelled.

The MSRDC has said that it had also suggested setting up a conciliation process with the help of a retired supreme court judge to iron out the differences, but to no avail.

Reliance, meanwhile, claims it is fully prepared, but won’t start work before the state does its part. “We are waiting for MSRDC and the government of Maharashtra to fulfil their commitments to enable us to commence work,” Reliance said in a statement.