Green signal for coastal road project, but concerns remain

Taking a re-look at the ₹20,000-crore project, which is set to become a reality

October 09, 2018 12:11 am | Updated 09:22 am IST

Years after it met with opposition from fishermen, environmentalists and civic activists, the city’s coastal road project is set to become a reality.

With new names, concepts and two agencies executing the almost ₹20,000-crore project, rivalling its contemporary, the Metro, anticipation is at its peak. Though contractors have been finalised, concerns remain. The Hindu takes a re-look at the project.

Twin projects

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is in charge of a 9.98-km section from Marine Drive to Worli (referred to as south section) while the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) is overseeing the Versova-Bandra Sea Link (VBSL).

The BMC’s standing committee in the third week of September cleared the ₹12,721-crore south section proposal. The contract for the first package from the Worli end of the sea link to Haji Ali was awarded at 12.35% more than the revised estimates to a joint venture of Hindustan Construction Company and Hyundai Development Corporation. Larsen and Toubro was selected to construct the stretch from Priyadarshani Park on Napeansea Road to Haji Ali at 1.94% more, and Princess Street flyover to Priyadarshini Park at 10.43% more than the revised estimates.

The project cost now stands at ₹12,721 crore, and the BMC has claimed that the road would save 70% travel time and 34% fuel every year. Construction work will start by the end of 2018 and is expected to be completed in four years.

The 17.17-km-long VBSL (thrice the length of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link) will have exits at Bandra, Juhu Koliwada, and Versova. It is expected to cut down the travel time between Versova and Worli to 15 minutes from the 45-60 minutes it takes at the moment. Construction is expected to commence in October and the project is slated to be completed by 2023.

Anil Ambani-led Reliance Infrastructure Limited in association with Italian major Astaldi S.p.A, the world’s third largest player in bridge construction, have been chosen for the construction of the ₹7,000-crore VBSL. While there will be no toll levied up to Worli, the VBSL will collect ₹250 as toll for cars and will be in force until 2052.

The MSRDC is planning to add three extra road connectors to seamlessly connect it to the Western Express Highway. The south section will also have four interchanges to provide easy entry and exit from the road at periodic intervals.

The south section will have two 3.45-km tunnels constructed using tunnel boring machines under Malabar Hill. Of the four lanes on either side, one each will be reserved for the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and emergency vehicles.

The BMC will reclaim 90 hectares from the sea primarily for connecting roads to the proposed entry-exit to the tunnels. Of the 90 hectares, only 22% will be used for construction and the rest will be kept for public amenities like landscaping, promenades, a 6.2-km jogging and cycling track, a butterfly park, open air theatre, playgrounds, bus stops, subways, and police posts. Three parking lots will come up at Amarsons, Haji Ali and Worli interchanges, with a combined capacity to accommodate 1,625 cars.

At what cost?

Since its conception, the coastal road project has met with scepticism. In 2015, the draft Development Project Report (DPR) was published on the BMC’s website for inviting objections. It received 3,375 suggestions and objections. Rajesh Mangela of Juhu Moragaon Machhimar Sahakari Sanstha is among those who opposed the project. He said, “The government has no regard for our lives. Even if they have the necessary permissions from agencies, those are conditional. They have to protect our villages and livelihood as we are an indigenous community.”

According to Mr. Mangela, fishing will be largely affected in Moragaon, Juhu Koliwada, and Chimbai villages due to the construction noise and tidal upheaval. He claimed the MSRDC never conducted a social impact assessment of the project and never held public meetings with fisherfolk.

Moragaon’s city survey record (CTS) no. 3 has a proposed interchange of the VBSL which Mr. Mangela said was initially reserved as a no development zone where fishing and ancillary activities were to be allowed. With the plot gone, it will be a big blow to fishing.

The MSRDC will provide around five hectares in Juhu Koliwada for a casting yard. The collector transferred the land a few weeks ago.

The Hindu had reported on September 19, “The MSRDC has sought permission from the forest department to cut over 1,000 mangrove trees for the VBSL. This will take some time as the corporation will first need an approval from the Bombay High Court before they can commence work, as the High Court had said that the State cannot permit destruction of mangroves for private, commercial, or any other use, unless the court finds it necessary for public interest.” The Sanstha, along with NGO Vanshakti and Bandra West Residents Association (BWRA), had moved the National Green Tribunal, challenging the environmental clearance given to the VBSL.

Explaining the petition, Stalin D., director of Vanshakti, said, “Even if a thousand-odd mangrove trees that will have to be cut for the VBSL are transplanted, transplantation of mangroves is a sham. Every mangrove tree has around 30,000 roots under water. The change in tidal pattern will lead to erosion of our beaches and, soon, Mumbai’s public beaches may vanish altogether. There is a fear of flooding as well.” The BMC has planned a 6.44-km sea wall to prevent coastal erosion and serve as a protection from waves and floods.

Daryl D’Monte of BWRA said, “Countries across the world are encouraging public transport. Then why are we encouraging private cars? The existing Bandra-Worli Sea Link was supposed to cater to 1.25 lakh cars every day, but less than 50,000 vehicles use it now. Will the State government be able to justify this mega project in reality?”

Although most of these concerns were addressed in terms and conditions of the provisional no objection certifcates (NOCs) given by various authorities, including the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), to the BMC and the MSRDC, these people want a strict vigil on whether these conditions are met. As Mr. Mangela said, “Every condition should be met before starting work, not after.”

‘Waste of public money’

Hussain Indorewala, activist and researcher, said the projects are an outright waste of public money. He said, “To call these projects inefficient is putting it mildly because the government is making everyone pay for the infrastructure that will serve only a small percentage of the population.”

According to the BMC’s environment status report, the city had 33.5 lakh vehicles as of March 31, of which over 20 lakh, around 64%, were two-wheelers and three-wheelers. The VBSL and the south section, like the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, will be out of bounds for this category of vehicle owners. According to the MSRDC’s own estimates, 86% of the sea link’s traffic is expected to be cars.

Mr. Indorewala said, “The government by investing in such projects is providing an indirect subsidy to car owners, while not providing subsidy to public transport operators in distress such as the BEST.” He said the government can easily write off all of the BEST’s debts and also upgrade the ailing transport undertaking for a fraction of the cost, benefiting the city as a whole.

A plan prepared by the citizen’s collective, Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST, highlighted that an upgraded bus system or a BRTS can be executed at ₹2,700 crore and will benefit a much larger section of the population. While the coastal road also has a provision for a BRTS system, Mr. Indorewala said it will not work since it will be cut off from the rest of the city.

“Dedicated bus lanes or the BRTS need to be part of the city’s road network and go through important roads as they serve the majority of commuters. Having a BRTS on a road that bypasses the city does not serve the purpose,” Mr. Indorewala said.

The plan also highlighted that big-ticket projects such as the Eastern Freeway and the Bandra-Worli Sea Link are practically used by private vehicles.

Incidentally, neither of the two roads allow two-wheelers, and only a handful of BEST services run on the Eastern Freeway.

Versova-Bandra Sea Link

Agency: MSRDC

Contractors: Consortium of Reliance Infrastructure and Astaldi S.p.A

Length: 17.17 km

Bandra to Versova: 10 mins (Travel time expected)

Cost: ₹6,993.99 crore

Toll: YES

South Section

Agency: BMC

Contractors: Larsen & Toubro and joint venture of Hindustan Construction Company and Hyundai Development Corporation

Length: 9.98 km (Bandra-Worli Sea Link to Girgaum Chowpatty)

70% Expected reduction in travel time

Cost: ₹12,721cr.

Toll: NO

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