India’s first monorail, conceived six years ago, will be thrown open to the public today. A sum of Rs. 1,100 crore have been spent so far. More will be spent in the coming years to complete the entire project which will cover a distance of 19.54 km. But the question is: will the much-touted project fulfil the travel needs of a city with over 12 million people?

Every train with four coaches has the capacity to carry about 560 people. Contrast it with the suburban train network where each train has a capacity to carry 1,500 people but eventually carries 8,500. On an average, about seven persons die everyday on suburban trains.

Ashok Datar, chairman of the Mumbai Environmental Social Network Research Group, say the system is more about flaunting new hardware and technology rather than addressing the problem of public transport.

“It is not connected enough and it costs too much for such little connectivity,” he says.

The first phase of monorail connects the central suburb of Wadala with the eastern suburb of Chembur. However, the station at Wadala is at least two km away from the main train station. Bus connectivity is absent as well. Essentially, say housing activists, it has paved the way for a real estate boom in the area — which lacks formal employment and basic livelihood opportunities. “To begin with, there is no luggage compartment in the train which means the working class is kept away. Moreover, huge redevelopment projects in places like Antop Hill — a large slum — will be undertaken in the area,” said Simpreet Singh of the National Alliance for People’s Movement.

Mr. Singh points to the development that has taken place in the recent past. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority was the Special Planning Authority of the Wadala area. Over the years, it sold off parts of land and major residential projects.

Everyone, however, is not critical of the project. “Right now, we are lagging so much on the public transport front, that anything in that direction is welcome. It is far from being the best solution as it will be used by very few people. But it is too early to comment on how it will eventually pan out,” said Pankaj Joshi of the Urban Design Research Institute.

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