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Mumbai Metro maze formed, but not solved yet

Three under-­construction corridors may miss deadlines even as MMRDA is hopeful; technical procedures and legal issues behind delays

mumbai Updated: Apr 17, 2018 11:29 IST
Tanushree Venkatraman
In the coming years, the MMRDA is looking at an investment of Rs1,28,000 crore for constructing 12 more Metro lines in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
In the coming years, the MMRDA is looking at an investment of Rs1,28,000 crore for constructing 12 more Metro lines in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.(HT File)

In a presentation on infrastructure developments in Maharashtra: Vision 2025, UPS Madan, metropolitan commissioner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), said the planning authority’s vision is to provide seamless connectivity in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), through a network of multimodal transport system, so that one can travel from one point to any other point within an hour by 2025.

A major component of this transport system is the Mumbai Metro project. In the coming years, MMRDA is looking at an investment of Rs1,28,000 crore for constructing 12 more Metro lines in the MMR. In its 2018-19 budget, MMRDA has allocated 40%, or Rs4,700 crore, of its Rs12,157-crore kitty for construction of seven upcoming Metro lines in Mumbai and its surrounding areas.

Easing the city’s south-north and east-west connectivity woes has been a long-awaited and ambitious dream, but inordinate delays have been synonymous with it. Mumbai’s suburban railway system is already running 2.5 times its capacity; the 2,000-km road network for private vehicles is proving to be insufficient for the large populace; and the BEST buses are no longer the most preferred mode of commute.

However, given the authority’s poor track-record of meeting deadlines, the new dream with a plan of building more than 200km of Metro lines may also end up being a distant dream.

The city’s first Metro line, which connects the suburbs of Versova, Andheri and Ghatkopar, took six years to complete after the foundation stone was laid in 2006.

Three more lines – Metro-2A (Dahisar-DN Nagar), Metro-7 (Dahisar East to Andheri East) and Metro-3 (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) – are currently under construction. The MMRDA has recently awarded contracts for two more – Metro-2B (DN Nagar to Mandale) and Metro-4 (Wadala-Thane-Kasarvadavali) – and the agency expects work on these to begin after monsoon this year. It has also got a nod from the state cabinet for Metro-5 (Thane-Bhiwandi-Kalyan) and Metro-6 (Swami-Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli) for which bids will be called soon.

The detailed project reports of four more metro lines, including the line connecting the Chhhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) to the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) and an extension of Metro-4 from Wadala to the General Post Office at Fort, are also expected by the end of this month.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government is keen on showcasing at least two of the metro projects (Metro-2A and Metro-7) before the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls scheduled to be held next year.

However, experts feel the state will have to tackle several technical hurdles before that. “It is very clear that 2019 is a populist deadline set by the government, with an eye on the elections. It has nothing to do with the on-ground engineering work,” said Rishi Aggarwal, a city-based transport expert. “Although MMRDA is doing a much better job with the current lines as compared to Metro-1, the upcoming monsoon will delay some work. The safety runs will take time, so even mid-2020 is looking difficult in terms of implementation.”

Already, a long deadlock between MMRDA and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has hit the most crucial component for starting operations – the rolling stock. The process of acquiring the rakes to run the corridor takes around 12 months to 18 months, officials said. The ADB, which is financing three of the corridors, was not agreeing to a ‘Make in India’ clause that insisted on 75% coaches being manufactured in India. Although the issue has now been settled, MMRDA is yet to release tenders for 378 rakes for Metro-7, Metro-2A and Metro-2B.

Currently, officials are targeting December 2018 and March 2019 as deadline for civil works to be completed for Metro-7 and Metro-2A. Further works related to the signalling system, viaducts and station works will take another year, after which the safety tests will be conducted. The safety tests conducted by the Research, Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), the Railway’s research arm, insist that rakes run without passengers for almost six months.

Officials from MMRDA, however, insist the deadline has not been revised. “The priority is to complete the civil works, which are running on schedule. As far as the rolling stock is considered, there can be several possibilities that can be explored,” said Madan.

The implementing agency, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), for Metro-3 (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz), however, has revised the deadline by six months, admitting delays. The operations are set to begin from June 2021, instead of December 2020 as estimated earlier. Further, the loss of time has also pushed up the cost of the fully-underground corridor by Rs800 crore.

Officials from MMRC attributed the delay to the legal issues related to permissions required for the project. “We lost a crucial period because we did not get tree-cutting permissions,” Ashwini Bhide, managing director, MMRC, said. “Nevertheless, we have already asked contractors to expedite the tunnelling and station works wherever possible and also revise the work schedule.”

The recently-released economic survey of Maharashtra also revealed poor-spending on the two corridors, which are under construction.

Until October 2017, MMRDA has spent 1.93%, or Rs124 crore, of the Rs6,410-crore estimated for the Metro 2A, and only 7.21%, or Rs448 crore, of the Rs6,208 crore cost of Metro-7.

Experts, however, said given the city’s topography, only blaming authorities for the delay is not right. “In a city like Mumbai, where roads are narrow, areas are congested and there is limited space to work, one has to be practical in expecting delays in the work,” said Ketan Garodia, a city-based transport expert. “So far, the pace has been good. What could have been done differently is to stagger the work of two competing lines and not let all the arterial roads get affected which is happening in the western suburbs.”