Work on one of Mumbai’s long-standing dreams — the coastal road — has finally begun. But, a political battle between the Shiv Sena and BJP over credit may see a bumpy ride for the project in the near future.
First proposed in 1964, the idea of a coastal road gathered impetus during the joint Shiv Sena-BJP rule in Maharashtra during 1995-1999. However, the project was revived only in 2011.
After a quick first few steps, the project then got stuck again awaiting environmental clearances. Even after getting all the required green signals by 2015, the project remained in the doldrums with finalising bidders taking three more years. But, construction on the long-delayed road finally commenced last week and the first phase is expected to be completed by 2023.
The 29.2 km road facilitating rapid north-south connectivity for the city’s commuters is planned to be a grand eight-lane expressway. Space for two dedicated BRTS lanes also nullify environmentalists’ arguments over the cost-benefit ratio, and the road is expected to cut travel time between the two ends of the city to just around 45 minutes from 2 hours.
With around 90 hectares of land to be reclaimed for the road, proponents argue that this will create much open space for the city. Several recreational facilities along with pathways and cycling tracks have also been planned along its length, with the cost of the entire project expected to be around `15,000 crore. This includes an underground tunnel at the southern end, several bridges and a large network of interchanges at three places. Apart from decongesting existing roads, the project is also expected to give a major boost to sluggish real-estate in the area. Appreciation of assets in the area is likely to be much more than expenditure incurred, experts say.
However, political battles might still jeopardise its fate, with environmental activists and the fishermen community raising the pitch against the project as work began. Two-Shiv Sena leaders from the fishing community have started leading the protests against the project though their party president insisted on presiding over the ceremony to mark beginning of construction. While the BJP, the second largest party in the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) — the nodal agency for the project — is upset with Shiv Sena’s attempts to take the entire credit, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) too sees a chance to enhance its base by organising the project-affected population.
A new report on rising sea levels have also provided environmental activists with another reason to oppose the project. Transport experts like Sudhir Badami also feel that the two reserved lanes for buses won’t be of much use due to speed and accessibility constraints. When completed, the road is certain to be an iconic piece of infrastructure for the city, but at the moment the future looks a little bleak.