Did skywalk project start off on the wrong foot?

After carrying an article on Monday (‘How your Rs 700 crore is going down the drain’) about how most skywalks in the city that were thrown open for public use are either ill maintained or have been virtually usurped by druggies and beggars, MiD DAY tried to speak with Ratnakar Gaikwad, under whose stint as MMRDA commissioner most of these structures came up.

Bandra skywalk
In the dark: The Bandra skywalk is without any lighting at night. Pic/Shadab Khan

Gaikwad — now the chief information commissioner (CIC) — refused to say much, but in reply to our text message claimed that around 10 lakh people are using the skywalks daily.

MiD DAY's report on November 12
MiD DAY’s report on November 12

“The skywalks are being used by about 10 lakh people every day and it is therefore a successful project. A skywalk is basically a foot over bridge (FOB) and some of them are used more often than others,” he said.

Some Mumbaikars who commute by train regularly also feel that there was no need to erect so many skywalks. “I personally believe that the money spent by MMRDA has gone down the drain, as only a handful of people use these skywalks. Walking on the one at Bandra (West) is unsafe even for men, as the structure has become a home for drug addicts. What annoys me more is the fact that MMRDA is not even maintaining the skywalks,” said Jayesh Mhatre, a daily train traveller.

MiD DAY found that the flooring and staircases on several skywalks was damaged.

Some of them had no lighting, benches and even dustbins. We also observed that security guards were absent from a few of these structures. Where they were present, many were not interested in listening to us.

Speaking to MiD DAY, transport expert Jitendra Gupta said, “The lukewarm response to the skywalk project proves that it was not planned properly. This also indicates that the study prior to the setting up of the project was not sound because of which things have turned out this way. Firstly, there was no need to spend Rs 700 crore, but now that this has happened, MMRDA should ensure the upkeep of the skywalks. More security guards should have to be deployed so that beggars and drug addicts don’t take over the facilities. In order to promote the use of skywalks, MMRDA must also install escalators.”

When the actual implementation of the skywalk project began in Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), the planning authority had said that the venture would get a fantastic response from pedestrians and escalators would also be provided for the benefit of the elderly and handicapped. However, MMRDA later realised that setting up escalators at all the skywalks was not feasible.

Speaking to MiD DAY, an MMRDA official requesting anonymity said, “Even though we had previously announced that most skywalks will have escalators, we had to put the idea on the backburner as there isn’t adequate space. And since the skywalks are not getting the kind of response we had expected, we don’t want to unnecessarily invest more money.”

In the last year, escalators have been installed at two places on the Bandra (West) skywalk, costing MMRDA Rs 1.1 crore. They are yet to become operational.

There are plans to lodge an escalator on the Kandivli (East) skywalk near the station. But there’s no scope to install moving staircases at the place where the skywalk will meet with Western Express Highway (WEH).

Speaking to MiD DAY, MMRDA Joint Project Director Dilip Kawathkar said, “We have already installed escalators at two places on the Bandra (West) skywalk. The reason why they have not become operational is that PWD has not yet supplied a testing certificate. We have established escalators on two of the skywalks and after gauging the response, we’ll decide what to do at other places.”

“From time to time, we have ensured that the skywalks are adequately maintained. However, if at all there is some discrepancy, we will see to it that the situation is rectified. We have also written letters to the local police stations informing them about the issue of drug addicts on skywalks. Many people use these facilities on a daily basis. As far as cleanliness is concerned, people using the structures should also see to it that no one litters. MMRDA spends Rs 6 crore as payment of electricity bill for lighting on the skywalks, and a similar amount is spent on upkeep of the facilities,” Additional Metropolitan Commissioner Ashwini Bhide said. 

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