Imagine you hop on to a catamaran at Borivli and reach Nariman Point in just 40 minutes. You avoid endless traffic jams and a tiring commute. Or, that you board a vessel at Ferry Wharf on the eastern coast and reach Nerul in 30 minutes. A Maharashtra state-appointed study group had dreamt of this in 1983, but the plan is yet to take off.
One thing that differentiates Mumbai from its siblings elsewhere in the world is the lack of vision successive governments have shown in exploiting water for passenger transport.
The port city came into being as a bunch of seven islands, and later became the country’s economic capital. History tells us that the city was abuzz even then because of extensive use of water transport. After Independence, the city planners ignored water transport because of other faster modes.
Till date, some waterways services continue on the eastern and western coasts, but their purpose is limited to ferrying passengers from Madh, Gorai (western), Uran and Elephanta (eastern). The seawaters have not been used to transport people to their workplaces in south or central Mumbai from extended suburbs and towns in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). As a result, the city’s suburban train network is crumbling with overload and roads have little space to accommodate existing vehicles.
On the other hand, other international port cities have been thriving on waterways for transporting both passengers and cargo.
The situation is in for a change, says the incumbent BJP government. It has promised to fast-track a programme of giving the western and eastern seafronts a faster, safer and non-polluting water transport. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis made this announcement while launching passenger speed launch services between Bhaucha Dhakka (Ferry Wharf) and Uran (Mora) last Friday. Propelled by Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari and Fadnavis’ joint efforts, the ferry has reduced travel time on this stretch to 30 minutes from the 60-odd minutes taken by the old, diesel engine-fired launches. Fadnavis said the R120-crore project would be completed in 18 months from June-July this year. In this project, passengers from Nerul/Belapur, Revas and Mandva will be able to travel to Ferry Wharf.
Roll-on-Roll-Off boats may also be pressed into service to allow passengers to take their four-wheelers on board a ship from Ferry Wharf till Mandva, Rewas or JNPT. The service will help ease commuting woes, as people can reach Alibaug in 60 minutes for their onward journey. A trip to Alibaug by road, currently, takes more than 4 hours.
However, the western seafront may not get the facility soon. Going by the experience in the past 20 years, the western coast has not been so lucky.
A couple of years ago, the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) had approved the 55-km passenger water transport on the western coast, primarily because it would ease traffic. The permission came with a rider that the state will have to adhere to environmental conditions. According to the EAC, the natural environment facilitated the development of waterways as an alternative in Mumbai to ease commuting and also save on time and fuel consumption. MSRDC’s study had suggested that water transport could take 30,000 cars off the city’s roads.
The EAC had asked for integrating the six passenger terminals with other public transport systems in the city and had instructed that noise barriers be installed at the terminals.
The Congress-NCP governments had tried to explore waterways, but infighting between the two partners proved a major hurdle in the project. Also, several failed bids and trouble over environmental clearances did not allow the project to push forward.
The citizens of MMR, who are blessed with seafronts, expect Fadnavis and Gadkari to speed up projects. People surely know that creating water transport is not as difficult as making big-ticket projects like Metros, sea-links and coastal roads. Meantime, let’s expect that Gadkari’s pet project the Duck Bus is pressed into service on the eastern and western coast as early as possible.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day