Congress-NCP clash takes a toll on sea links

In the recent past, the state cabinet committee on infrastructure, which plays a crucial role in clearing big- ticket infrastructure projects in the state, has been expanded to accommodate two new faces, taking the number of its members from 10 to 12. Since these additions to its numbers, the committee hasn't met even once, and has practically done nothing to decide the fate of several important sea link projects, which could go a long way in easing traffic congestion in the city.

All at sea: Projects like the Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link and the Bandra-Versova Sea Link – extensions of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link to the South and North - have been put on the backburner. File Pic

According to sources, the frosty political relationship between the Congress and the NCP is to blame for the lack of headway. The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is in charge of the Bandra-Haji Ali Sea Link, is largely the bastion of the NCP, while the committee on infrastructure that is to decide its fate is headed by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress.

Ever since the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan took charge of the committee after coming to power in November 2010, it met only thrice and cleared only three projects, two of which are based in the rural parts of the state. Meanwhile, projects like the Bandra-Haji Ali Sea Link and the Bandra-Versova Sea Link have been put on the backburner.

No headway has been made either on the east-west waterways corridor, which has been awaiting a nod from the committee since the August last year. While the committee drags its heels, the MSRDC led by NCP man Jaidatta Kshirsagar has been forced to twiddle its thumbs. Kshirsagar, who was one of the new additions to the committee made last month, was expected to push for the long-pending cancellation of the existing contract for the Bandra-Haji Ali Sea Link with the Reliance-Hyundai consortium.  Only once the committee scraps the contract with Reliance-Hyundai can the MSRDC take over and manage its construction afresh. But since Kshirsagar's addition, not a single meeting has taken place. The committee now has six members each from the NCP and the Congress.

The infrastructure projects, collectively worth thousands of crores, became a bone of contention between the Congress and the NCP combine ever since Congressman Ashok Chavan took over as CM, back in December 2008. He cleverly clipped the wings of the MSRDC, which is perceived as an NCP stronghold, by taking away from it the Mantralaya makeover project and subsequently the Sewri-Nhava Sheva Sea Link worth over Rs 8500 crore, even though the MSRDC had already spent over Rs 100 crore on consultancy charges and a study report.

When Prithviraj Chavan took over in November 2010, he went a step further, almost ignoring the NCP-led MSRDC. Ever since, MSRDC officials have all but pleaded for funds and clearances from the state government so that the body can tide over its impending financial breakdown. But since its fate lies with the Congress-led cabinet committee on infrastructure, these crucial approvals seem unlikely.

In the three meetings that were held after Chavan came to power, the MSRDC's projects didn't even get a passing mention, as its Minister Jaidatta Kshirsagar didn't even feature as a member. Even the public works department, which is led by NCP man Chhagan Bhujbal, failed to garner approval for the projects. NCP ministers then alleged that the Congress was playing favourites. They demanded to know why the MSRDC and PWD have to get all their projects mooted by the cabinet committee, while the MMRDA, which is headed by Chavan, can take up big projects with ease without having to do so.

Crafty rejection
The MSRDC is also seeking the committee's nod for the Bandra-Versova Sea Link. However, these plans too were foiled when Chavan showed preference for a coastal road, claiming that it was financially more viable. The coastal road project is also languishing today, as the Ministry of Environment did not give environmental clearance for reclamation of land.

Other projects
Kshirsagar is also batting for the widening of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. MSRDC is also seeking a nod for widening of National Highway no 4, which connects Mumbai and Pune. The MSRDC is also awaiting the cabinet committee's clearance on the water transport project. In its proposal to the government, MSRDC stated that the work for the west coast project could be given to three companies whose bids were approved as lowest. The proposal was forwarded in August last year, but the committee's green signal is still awaited.

Coastal Road
Cost: Rs 8,000 crore
Length: 35.6 km
Duration: 6 years (estimated)
A committee headed by Brihanmumbai Municipal commissioner (BMC) Subodh Kumar submitted the plan of a 35.6km road between Nariman Point and Kandivli, which runs parallel to the coast. The plan, termed as the dream project of chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, is expected to be tagged as a national project and will cost Rs 8,000 crore. The road will take off at the Manora Guest house, opposite the Mantralaya and tread through a tunnel between the NCPA and the Air India building. The Queen’s Necklace may have two more lanes to accommodate more traffic up to Raj Bhavan. There would be 18 exit and entry points on the coastal road. Once the actual construction work starts it will take 5-6 years for construction. Of the 35 km, nearly 8 km of the road will be on reclaimed land, which will be reserved as a green zone, banning construction work. DPR for the project is already ready and BMC has invited Expression of Interest for the same from interested parties.

Graphic/ Aamit Bandre

Bandra Versova Sea Link
Cost: Rs 3,800 crore
Length: 10 km
Duration: 5 years (estimated)
The 10 km-long Bandra-Versova Sea Link will be constructed by MSRDC at an estimated cost of Rs 3,800 crore and it will take around five years for the completion of the project, once the actual construction begins. The BVSL has already received environment clearance for the project. However it will also be a daunting task for MSRDC to go ahead with the Bandra-Versova Sea Link project as in the past there has been opposition to BVSL from the residents of Juhu and also from local fishermen.

Bandra Worli Sea Link 
Cost: Rs 1,648 crore
Length: 5.6 km
Duration: Over 9 years
The Bandra Worli Sea Link was thrown open for traffic in June 2009. It took the contractor more than 9 years for the completion of the project. When the actual construction on the project was started, MSRDC had said that it will take 5 years for the project to get complete but later it took more than 9 years for the completion of projects because of public litigations.

Worli Haji Ali Sea link 
Cost: Rs 2,800 crore
Length: 3.4 km
Duration: 5 years (estimated)
The 3.4 km-long Worli Haji Ali Sea Link will be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 2,800 crore. It will take more than 5 years for the completion of the project once the actual work starts. 

State cabinet committee on infrastructure
CM Prithviraj Chavan Chairman (Congress)
Dy CM Ajit Pawar Member (NCP)
Minister, Industries, Ports, Narayan Rane Member (Congress)
Minister, PWD (excluding public undertakings), Chhagan Bhujbal Member (NCP)
Minister, Home, R R Patil Member (NCP)
Minister, Forest, Relief and Rehabilitation, Dr Patangrao Kadam Member (Congress)
Minister, Rural Development, Jayant Patil Member (NCP)
Minister, Revenue and Khar Lands, Balasaheb Thorat Member (Congress)
Minister, PWD (Public Undertakings), Jaidatta Kshirsagar Member (NCP)
Minister, Water Resources (excluding Krishna Valley Irrigation Corparation), Sunil Tatkare Member (NCP)
Minister, Textiles, Minority Development and Aukaf- Naseem Khan Member (Congress)
Minister, Employment Guarantee Scheme and Water Conservation, Nitin Raut Member (Congress)

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