Mumbai’s infra dream takes a drastic hit in 2020
Manufacturing and supply of parts were affected, migrant labourers working on sites started moving to their villages owing to the uncertainty in cities and work came to a standstill
2020 started with a bang for the financial capital’s infrastructure: The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) announced to open two Metro lines between Dahisar and Andheri; work on the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR) extension, the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC)-Vakola Junction elevated road and the Kalanagar junction revamp was scheduled to be completed this year.
But, like every other sector that got hit starting March 24, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown owing to increasing cases of Covid-19 in the country and days before the Maharashtra government began its phase-wise clampdown, infrastructure was also hit badly. In the following months, manufacturing and supply of parts were hit, migrant labourers working on sites started moving to their villages owing to the uncertainty in cities and work came to a standstill.
These reasons have resulted in a delay in infrastructure projects in the city with a population of 12.5 million.
At the beginning of 2020, Mumbai was promised an infrastructure overhaul with two new metros and three new road projects that would ease daily commute. Six years after Mumbai got its first Metro connecting Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar, the MMRDA was going to open Metro-2A (Dahisar-DN Nagar) and Metro-7 (Dahisar E-Andheri E), expected to reduce congestion on SV Road, western express highway (WEH) and the crowded suburban railway.
Also, the SCLR extension, the BKC-Vakola Junction elevated road and the Kalanagar junction improvement work were expected to be completed this year.
RA Rajeev, metropolitan commissioner, MMRDA, said, “It was indeed a very difficult year for infrastructure as a variety of factors was affected owing to the lockdown. However, we have great satisfaction that we constructed the Covid-19 facility in BKC when it was needed the most and could contribute to the fight against the pandemic.”
The authority had built a 1,008-bed facility in BKC in less than a fortnight and handed it over to the municipal body.
Here’s how the labour force was hit. The MMRDA had deployed more than 5,000 labourers at the Mumbai Trans- Harbour Link (MTHL) site before the lockdown. However, only close to 2,000 workers were at the site by the end of July. The 22-km sea link will connect Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. Similarly, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), executing the 33.5-km underground corridor from Colaba to Seepz, had 15,000 labourers before the lockdown, which went down to 8,000 in July. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had to ask state agencies to recruit and train “sons of the soil” for these jobs.
Now, a status check
In September, when things started picking up pace with the Maharashtra government’s Mission Begin Again programme, which majorly looked at reviving economic activities in a controlled manner, MMRDA announced that trial runs for the two corridors will start from Jan 14, 2021 and operations from May 2021. However, the trial runs have now been postponed to March 2021 and the operations are also expected to be hit by two-three months.
A senior official from MMRDA said, “The uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 still remains. There is a delay in the design and manufacture of crucial parts, which is affecting civil works.”
Last month, MMRDA also approved the delay in executing the SCLR extension, which is now going to be completed only by 2022 with a cost escalation of ₹109 crore. MMRC has also revised its timeline for completing phase one of the project (from Aarey to BKC) from December 2021 to September 2022. The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is implementing the 701-km Mumbai-Nagpur expressway, was also hoping to complete 60% of the works by December 2020, however, it’s now looking at completing phase one — between Nagpur and Shirdi — by May 1,2021.
Like several infrastructure projects in Mumbai, the ₹55,000-crore project was also affected owing to the pandemic-enforced lockdown.
“We had almost 18,000 workers before the lockdown, which went down to 10,000 in the months during the lockdown. Most of the workers started coming in by July-August,” said Radheyshyam Mopalwar, vice-chairman and managing director of MSRDC, in a press conference in October. The complete corridor, which will connect Mumbai and Nagpur in eight hours, will be operational by 2022.
In Mumbai, Rajeev said that MMRDA is hoping to start works on Metro-10 (Gaimukh-Shivaji Chowk), Metro-11 (Wadala-General Post Office) and Metro-12 (Kalyan-Taloja) in 2021. “The Kalanagar Junction will be ready in January 2021. We will also start work on the WEH decongestion plan the coming year,” he said.
In October 2020, Thackeray, in his address to the state announced the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi’s (MVA) decision to shift the Metro-3 car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg.
The state expressed its intention of constructing a common car shed for Metro-3, 4 (Wadala-Kasarwadavali) and 6 (Swami Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli) on the 102-acre plot in Kanjurmarg, which would also serve as an intersection for the proposed line-14 (Kanjurmarg-Badlapur). However, the plans went kaput after the Bombay high court (HC) ordered an interim stay on the transfer of the land to MMRDA after the Central government claimed ownership of it. A senior official from MMRDA said that even if it gets land today, a car shed will be built by June 2023, post which operations for line 3 will begin from December 2023.
“It is a project that is going to change the face of travel in Mumbai and now it’s stuck,” said Paresh Rawal, a transport expert based in Mumbai. “The project is in an advanced stage. It is not the time to change its alignment or demarcate another car shed for it.”
However, the state government is set to appoint a third committee to look for alternative sites. It is also eyeing a plot in BKC, meant for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, for the car shed. AV Shenoy, from the Mumbai Mobility Forum, said, “All three Metros — 2A, 3 and 7 — have suffered a major setback. We only hope that 2A and 7 are at least operational by mid-2021.”
New modes of transport
In 2020, Mumbai’s lifeline stopped, metros got delayed and buses were overcrowded. The only ray of hope was the city’s acceptance of new commutes.
Like several cities around the globe that started making way for walking and cycling as it proved to be the safest mode of transport during a pandemic, Mumbai also started slowly adopting it.
On August 31, MMRDA launched the public electric bike-sharing facility in BKC. Currently, there are around 18 zones of docks in and around BKC from where commuters can get the bikes. While the chief minister had inaugurated the bikes in January 2020, the launch got postponed owing to the lockdown. Public bike-sharing facility is also available at the Jagruti Nagar Metro station. The service was inaugurated on February 23 this year. Till March 15, 1,821 rides were completed with a majority of rides recorded on weekends and holidays. However, it was then shut owing to the lockdown.
The Smart Commute Foundation, founded by the city’s first bicycle mayor, Firoza Suresh, also appointed 24 new bicycle councillors this year with a vision to make Mumbai the bicycle capital of the world by 2030. The foundation’s campaign “Cycle Chala, City Bacha” is now routing for setting up 600 bicycle stands in Mumbai. Suresh said, “Covid has been a blessing in disguise for cyclists this year. People have willingly adapted to the new mode of transport this year. The biggest challenge of 2021 will now be to sustain this momentum.”