Thursday, August 31, 2006

Doubts raised on Mumbai Transharbour link

The bid document with the final plan for the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) has been released today and there are already issues in this US$1 billion project. (My first post on this freeway is here, with another follow-up here)

Today's HT carries this article citing various traffic experts who've pointed out flaws.

“The bridge isn’t wide enough to cope with the traffic needs,” said IIT professor S.L. Dhingra, who has been associated with several infrastructure projects in Mumbai.

Note that the earlier plan for the MTHL also had a rail component. In fact, the MSRDC's webpage on the project also states that the rail component will be added in Phase 2 of the project in 2015. However, the HT article states that this could be pushed away further.

“The project will be incomplete without rail connectivity,” said independent traffic specialist Arun Mokashe who’s worked on several infrastructure projects. “To provide better connectivity to Greater Mumbai, the railway component is a must.” Another senior traffic consultant and former top MSRDC official said the plan “totally lacked foresight”.

“In 1983, no one knew that a Special Economic Zone and an airport would come up in Panvel. So there is a serious need to rework the original blueprint,” he said.

It does appear that the Government, in a hurry to make a big bang announcement on yet another large project, has completely missed out on the larger picture. As the experts in the article above have pointed out, Mumbai and Navi Mumbai will be completely different cities when the MTHL finally gets constructed, thanks to the proposed SEZ and new international airport. Both projects can only raise the traffic numbers for the MTHL. Hence, any blueprint has to keep this in mind rather than base work on 30 or 40 year old transport studies.

If these issues (i.e. more lanes, an organised dispersal and the rail component) are not integrated within the project at the start, it could well be another case of short-sighted planning that leads to problems in the longer term. Case in point - the Bandra Worli Sealink, which will be completed before the Worli-Nariman Point link is built, and could hence result in traffic building up on Haji Ali (for more on this also read our interview with architect, Chandrashekhar Prabhu).

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Burning bridges

Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge was blown up last night by Washington city officials to make way for a new version. What's interesting was that the button was pressed - or rather, the plunger was pushed - not by a politician or civil servant or a leader, but by 53-year old Dan Ruefly, a veteran user of the bridge.
"What an honor," said Mr. Ruefly, 53, who won a contest sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project to find the motorist with the worst bridge-related commuting story. As the winner, he got to trigger last night's detonation of 2,600 tons of steel. "It was great to be able to do this for all of those commuters who have sat on that bridge. It was worth the wait."
Wonder which road Mumbaikars would be glad to get rid of - L. J. Road Mahim junction ranks up there, as does the Peddar Road stretch. Then there's the narrow Andheri Station junction, Dadar T. T, Sion circle, etc, etc...

I'm sure we won't run out of any such road stretches that are the "banes of many commuters" but I'm also sure it will take many more dislocated backs and shattered hip bones to get rid of them. Till then, laage raho BMC.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Can Ministers "guard" Mumbai ?

There's this hoarding on Marine Drive, just under the flyover and near the petrol pump after the Mumbai Police Gym ground. It's a Nationalist Congress Party ad congratulating the appointment of Shri Jayant Patil as the "Guardian Minister" of Mumbai.

Yes, you got that right. Our city has a Guardian Minister. As if the efforts of our Mayor weren't enough we now have a Minister to guard over us. So - who is Jayant Patil ? No less than the Finance Minister of the state of Maharashtra. Check out his bio here.

What will Shri Patil guard us against ? Bad roads ? corruption ? crowded trains and roads ? rising property prices ? or terrorism ? Could someone please show me the responsibilities of such a Minister ? And who is he accountable to ? Does he have a list of priorities ? Or, like the CM, will he just reiterate of completion of projects like the MUTP, Mumbai Metro, etc to address the woes of Mumbai ?

On googling for "Guardian Minister Mumbai", these are a few of the activities the Hon. Guardian Minister has done so far

- Visited the BMC HQ. And was reminded by the Sena-run BMC that the Maharashtra State Govt (run by Congress+NCP) owes the BMC dues worth Rs579cr. Ah..politics.

- Promised Slum rehab. Can't a resist a quote he's given there "We are striving to improve citizens’ standard of living and give them basic amenities." - Finally an agenda. For brevity sakes, we reduce it to one line and leave the rest to the BMC, MMRDA, BEST, ABC, XYZ and the other acronyms responsible for improving our standard of living.

Now here's another interesting aspect to this issue. Shri Chandrakant Handore is the Guardian Minister for Mumbai Suburban District (links here, here and this one here him named in a gangster tape). So does he report to the Guardian Minister ?

And in case you were wondering who were the earlier Guardian Ministers for Mumbai, before Mr. Patil, there was a certain Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar. And before both of them, there was none other than Chhagan Bhujbal himself.

This seems to be another case of all hype and no substance. After the Sheriff and the Mayor, surely this is another case of meaningless designations, posts without responsibilities or accountability.

And then again, it looks like a sop, a sweetener, given to the NCP in return for their support to the Congress so that both can rule Maharashtra - and hence Mumbai. Yet again, the politicians looking after themselves under what seems to be a random attempt to guard the city.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

On leave

of absence from blogging due to unavoidable reasons.

Back in the sphere after about 10 days.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

MUTP - Mumbai's Unending Transport Problems

That's an alternative full form for Mumbai Urban Transport Project - or MUTP. My piece on this ambitious project appeared in yesterday's Hafta. Reproduced below.

Whither tomorrow

A brief history of development
It all began in 1962. The year in which LA-based M/S Wilbur Smith prepared a detailed road transport plan for Mumbai. Proposals in this report included construction of freeway networks – primarily the Bandra-Nariman Point and Sewri-Nhava Seva links. The Wilbur Smith study was also supplemented by a Mass Transportation Study in 1967-68 whose proposals included construction of underground rail network.

Interestingly enough, soon after this study, a Regional Plan in 1973, highlighted the fact that expensive projects like freeways and metros would become necessary as long as economic activity in South Mumbai continued to rise and get concentrated. The study reiterated the need for a Bandra-Kurla Complex and a Navi Mumbai.

So, what happened to all the proposals and recommendations from these ages-old studies and reports ? Some were completed (Nhava Seva Port), some given up (a rapid transit system), some taken up in the BUTP and the MUTP (read ahead), some currently being implemented (the Bandra Worli Sealink), one big one whose foundation stone was laid a couple of months back (Mumbai Metro) and one whose tender will be awarded this year (Mumbai Transharbour Sea link). Indeed, infrastructure upgrades in Mumbai have had a long, chequered past.

Ambitious plans and grand designs
Post the formation of the MMRDA in 1975, the first major transport overhaul achieved for the city was the Bombay Urban Transport Project (BUTP). Implemented between March-77 and June-84, the projects achievements included addition of 700 buses and three bus depots for the BEST and construction of five flyovers and road-widening projects across the city. Cost of the project? All of Rs40cr, or US$50m (at the then rate of Rs7.94/$), half of which – or US$25m – was funded by the World Bank.

Almost 20 years later, the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), is being implemented at a cost of Rs4,526cr – just under a billion dollars – again half of which (US$542m) will be funded by the World Bank. Needless to say, it’s the most ambitious infrastructure upgrade ever undertaken for this city, and will be implemented by no less than five different agencies – the MMRDA, the Mumbai. Rail Vikas Corp., MSRDC, BEST, and of course our very own BMC.

The rail component (Rs3,510cr) of MUTP includes addition of lines between Mahim-Borivali, Kurla-Thane and Borivali-Virar. The road component (Rs1,016cr) includes large projects like the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road and the Santacruz-Chembur Link road.

Controversies abound
Expectedly, controversy and delay has dogged the MUTP from day one. While the preparatory work for the MUTP was conducted in 1988, World Bank funding for the project came through fourteen-years later in 2002. However, the biggest challenge to the MUTP remains the issue of relief and rehabilitation (R&R) of people affected by this massive project (PAP) – or the 19,128 families, as per the MMRDA’s own web page on the MUTP.

The total cost of R&R is pegged at about Rs480cr (included in the overall project cost) and as per the Government of Maharashtra’s R&R rules, each project affected family is entitled to get a tenement of 225sq. ft, free of cost. In case of urgent shifting, transit accommodation of 125sq. ft with all basic amenities is to be provided to the PAP. World Bank norms also require all PAP to be resettled before any the start of engineering work.

Over April and December 2004, the independent Inspection Panel of the World Bank received four separate requests for inspection from organisations representing residents and shop-owners in Kurla and Jogeshwari. The Inspection Panel then investigated these requests and issued a report in Dec-2005.

To quote from the World Bank’s website - “The Panel found that the Bank did not comply with a number of requirements under its own policies. Among other things, the Panel found that the Bank overlooked the needs of low and middle-income shopkeepers, did not consult with them in the selection of resettlement sites, and did not ensure that suitable arrangements were provided for their resettlement. The originally proposed resettlement sites posed difficulties for many shopkeepers in restoring their businesses and maintaining incomes, as confirmed in a recent Business Needs Study launched under the Project. The Project also failed to give adequate attention to the employees of the displaced shops, who faced risks of income loss.

In addition, the Panel found that many other affected people, including the most vulnerable, faced adverse impacts as a result of non-compliance with Bank policies. Serious problems were identified relating to environmental and living conditions at the resettlement sites and income restoration. Environmental and social support services at the sites were not ready or adequate when people were shifted, and many lacked adequate access to water and sewerage.”

It took all of four months for the MMRDA and the Maharashtra State Government to address these concerns, before the World Bank resumed funding of the MUTP on 30th June 2006. World Bank Country Director, Michael Carter, noted that “The Bank and the Government of Maharashtra have been working closely over the last few months to address the issues that led to the suspension of disbursements, especially in respect of the grievance process, the resettlement of shopkeepers, and post resettlement services. We are pleased that good progress has been made in each of these areas.”

While the road and R&R components of the MUTP have their own share of hurdles to face, the rail component is not seeing a smooth ride. Newspaper reports indicate that the Railway Ministry and the Maharashtra Government are in a bind over who would bear the cost of the project. As for the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corp – one of the implementing agencies for the rail component of the MUTP – it seems to be in a state of limbo. A plea filed by Borivali resident Devraj Roy, under the Right to Information Act, revealed that precious little has been achieved so far (2% to be precise on some projects), target dates have been extended even as railway officials ran up foreign travel bills running into lakhs.

Anniversaries as reminders
Even as chaos reigns over the billion-dollar MUTP there is no immediate respite in sight for the Mumbaikars manifold commuting woes. MUTP itself is targeting 2008 for completion, as is the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. The Trans Harbour Link is yet to find a contractor and don’t even think about the Metro (2020). We’re six years away from the 50th anniversary of the Wlibur Smith study on Mumbai’s roads and have barely anything to show in terms of progress on any of these 30-40-50 year old projects. Indeed, a grim reminder that Mumbaikars have borne too many todays and are yet to see a better tomorrow.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

JNPT Sewri Trans harbour link - wait a bit more

Nearly 40 years in the making, the Sewri-Nhava Seva Trans-harbour link (MTHL) seems to be finally taking off. After first receiving State Government approval in 2001, the MTHL then issued pre-bid documents in early 2004 and received Central Government approval in Dec-2004. In fact, the Finance Minister also mentioned the link in his Budget-2005 speech and the project also received Environmental clearance in March 2005.

But work till date ? Nil.

Now, in Aug-2006, the MSRDC is finally focusing on the MTHL, and, more importantly, has given out bidding documents for this link.

Three "consortia" are in the fray for this project (L&T-Gammon, IL&FS and IFFCO) and obviously one will win the tender. Their bids will be in by Oct 25, 2006 and MSRDC will then - hopefully - announce the winner by mid-December. MSRDC says,
''The deciding factor will be the duration of concession period, that is, the period for which they will collect the toll.''
And finally - when will it get completed ? 4 years after work begins.

And work begins six months after the order is awarded (i.e. June-2007).

Which means around mid-2011. Just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of it's inception. Talk about labour pain.