Many more skeletons in MMRDA closet?
Euphoric after the country’s first Monorail rolled out from a dusty Wadala depot to reach Chembur in February last year, several lakh Mumbaikars thronged the elevated facility for joyrides for days together. The record ridership that the operator registered in the initial days ceased once public curiosity ended, and people found out that the Monorail wasn’t a practical transport, but a mere option for tourism.
Currently, the Wadala-Chembur line runs almost empty, making it commercially unviable. Whoever rides it daily, including the pilot, is dogged by concerns whether technical issues would interrupt the journey. Last month, a dozen commuters had to be evacuated using fire brigade ladders during a prolonged power failure. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which governs the project, has always played down every incident. Their responses to such developments have remained evasive. But the MMRDA may no longer be able to enjoy the luxury that it has been practising with a blatant ease all along.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has exposed MMRDA thoroughly in the matters of Monorail’s planning, execution, and the subsequent future impact the unpardonable blunders they have committed so far. Mumbaikars have been questioning MMRDA’s style of functioning, albeit in a hush-hush manner. CAG has given them adequate firepower to hold the planner responsible if anything goes wrong in the future. CAG has questioned durability of the Monorail construction, especially the Wadala-Chembur corridor. The auditor says that the contractors committed serious lapses in constructing the project in full view of experts at MMRDA. It has observed that all civil structures were to be designed for a life of 120 years, but the construction agency ignored the norms and MMRDA did not take any action against it for violating contract conditions. A series of lapses — technical, legal and financial — were reported extensively by mid-day (‘Is the Monorail headed for a major disaster’? April 11, 2015).
In fact, MMRDA needs to be assessed for its performance in the past 15 years, in which it has delivered some projects that have changed the city. Several senior bureaucrats have helmed the authority that directly reports to the CM. It was used extensively to score brownie points over the Shiv Sena-controlled BMC by the previous Congress CMs. Being a cash cow — MMRDA primarily earned money by selling land in and around the city — it has been behaving as if it does favours to the city, and, hence, is not liable for giving any answers. The ‘class apart’ attitude the authority’s officers flash, does not necessarily reflect in their work.
They planned and constructed the Eastern Freeway’s elevated corridors in the best available manner, but the non-elevated stretches do not conform to such standards. The Panjarpol-BPT Road stretch that ends at Bhakti Park raises a question mark over the credentials of the MMRDA officials who approved poor quality work. The ‘balding’ concrete top along the stretch of the Freeway till the Shivaji Statue is crying for attention from the ‘brilliant’ technocrats. Concerns expressed by motorists over the serious damages caused by Monorail’s construction on BPT Road have not been addressed as yet.
CAG’s intention is not to create any fear psychosis. But MMRDA must understand that it is responsible for both the good and the bad in the Monorail project. Sadly, it hasn’t been able to satisfy the auditors even when the issues they probed will have a bearing on the commuters’ safety and life. And if MMRDA bosses do not care to be transparent, their supreme boss, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, must step in to control them.
Delays in project completion are understandable in case they happen due to genuine reasons like land acquisition. But in the Monorail’s case, the delays have been inordinate, mainly because of the technical mess that its very own ‘experts’ were involved in.
Will these experts, who refuse to emerge from their plush offices in MMRDA headquarters to understand the ground reality, be made responsible, questioned over their vested interests, and charge-sheeted? Should we expect the CM to stop the practice of ignoring CAG reports, as was the norm in the previous regimes?
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day