While MMRDA has asked PWD for city's highways to complete metro work, it will hand the denotified highways back to PWD once it's over
An under-construction Metro site on the highway near Malad. Pic /Nimesh Dave
Tipplers used to frequenting bars along the Eastern and Western Express Highways can raise an early toast. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Public Works Department (PWD) seem to have the perfect answer to the Supreme Court ban on the sale and consumption of liquor within 500 metres of highways, which had dampened much of the city's nightlife and threatened the livelihood of thousands.
The WD and MMRDA have on principle agreed to a swap of the highways. This means that the Eastern and Western Express Highways will now be under the jurisdiction of MMRDA, not PWD. Denotifying the highways and turning them into cityroads means that the 340-odd liquor shops, and restaurants and bars along WEH and EEH can carry on as usual. The government agencies however, say it's the Metro III project and city's ongoing infrastructure overhaul that has led to the swap.
MMRDA officials claim they have asked the PWD to hand over the two highways for faster completion of the Metro rail project, and after completion will be handing the highways back to PWD and will be handing over the two highways back to PWD, reinstating their highway status. This, for the moment at least, makes the relief for highway liquor business short lived.
“We got a letter from MMRDA to denotify the WEH and EEH as they are carrying out work on the metro rail. We will check the rules before taking a decision. Also, if the denotification happens, it will be only be until the metro work is on. After that, both highways will be handed back to us,” said Nitin Kareer, Principal Secretary, Urban Development Department. MMRDA wants to acquire land for the construction of metro stations and believe having the highways under its jurisdiction will make coordination easier and cut out red tape.
Sources in the State Excise department have said that if the two highways are handed over to the MMRDA and later handed back to PWD, the decision to revoke and implement the SC ban would need to be taken by the state government.
"We have had a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over the denotification of highways across the state wherever possible. The MMRDA's decision is a big respite, at least for Mumbai, for the time being,” said Adarsh Shetty, President, AHAR.
While the 16.5-km long Andheri (E)-Dahisar (E) metro rail has a deadline of 2019, which sources said could extend to 2020, the EEH is being asked to be denotified for the 32-km Wadala-Ghatkopar-Thane-Kasarvadavli metro rail. This R14,549-crore metro rail will partly fall on the EEH.
In Maharashtra alone, 15,699 establishments, including restaurants, bars and liquor shops, were shut following the ban that came into effect on March 31 to bring down the number of highway accidents that are attributed to drinking and driving.