Why A Change Of Regime In Maharashtra Spells Greats News For State’s Infrastructure Development

Snapshot

For Maharashtra to scale rapidly to a one trillion dollar economy, it must execute large-scale infrastructure projects all over the state — in terms of roads, railways, metro, ports and seaside living spaces, tourism infrastructure, airports and low-cost housing.

Many such projects were stalled in the MVA regime, but Devendra Fadnavis’ return could spell great news for the state’s infrastructure development.

 

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray threw in the towel by announcing his resignation minutes after the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay on order by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari calling for a special session of the state assembly for Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP government to take a floor test.

The collapse of the Thackeray-led coalition government is set to pave the way for the return of a new government comprising of BJP and a rebel faction of Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde. While the exact contours of the new ruling regime are yet to emerge, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis will likely be at the helm as the new chief minister.

While the Maharashtra political developments may have deeply polarised the public opinion along ideological lines, there is near unanimity among one section that the return of Fadnavis as chief minister is excellent news. This is the crowd of infrastructure enthusiasts in India.

During his tenure as CM between 2014 and 2019, Fadnavis played an instrumental role in reviving several infrastructure projects that had been languishing for years. Many transformative urban projects that have the potential to change the landscape of Mumbai were also launched.

Fadnavis set up a ‘war room’ to push key infrastructure projects in the state and ensure their completion within a set time frame. Fadnavis reviewed and fast-tracked nearly 20 infrastructure projects through his ‘war room’ model.

When first set up in 2015, the Fadnavis war room identified and took up 10 big infra projects, including the coastal road, Navi Mumbai airport, the second and third Mumbai Metro lines, the Mumbai Trans-harbour line and the Nagpur Metro, among others. Each one of these projects progressed rapidly during his tenure.

Take, for instance, the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) project. 53 years after conception, four attempts at tendering over twelve years, and 15 Chief Ministers since the Wilbur Smith report originally mooted the idea, it was Fadnavis who finally managed to get all boxes ticked to launch the project. After a detailed bidding process, the chosen contractors started work on the Rs 18,000 crore MTHL project in 2018.

The Fadnavis war room revived the MTHL project in 2015. Two crucial state and central clearances were obtained between November 2015 and January 2016. In February 2016, funding from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was secured subject to some design changes and construction standards to be followed. The central government readily stood counter-guarantee for the JICA loan. JICA agreed to fund eighty per cent of the cost at a concessional rate of interest, and the remaining twenty per cent came from Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the state government. The JICA agreement with MMRDA for the funding was signed in May 2016.

MTHL project involves the construction 21.8-km-long elevated road, of which 16.11 km is a sea-link that will connect Sewri in South Mumbai to Chile in Navi Mumbai. Around 80 per cent of the work on the ₹18,000 crore has been completed, and MMRDA plans to complete the rest before December 2023 and throw open the MTHL for public use.

Take the Mumbai Coastal Road project. Long put in cold storage, the Fadnavis-led government put it on a fast track. The ambitious road project, once completed, will add an 8.5 km long and 20-metre wide sea promenade to the city between Priyadarshini Park at Napean Sea Road, and the Worli side of the Bandra Worli Sea Link. In March 2022, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) stated that that the project would be completed by the predicted deadline of November 2023.

While the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government did not actively attempt to derail these two iconic infrastructure projects of Mumbai, several other projects initiated by the Fadnavis government have faced severe delays. Two projects that were particularly targeted by the MVA regime were the Mumbai Metro Line 3 and Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train.

Another stellar infrastructure project that Fadnavis government is widely credited with is the 701 km under-construction Mumbai–Nagpur Expressway (officially known as Hindu Hrudaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg). Among India’s longest Greenfield road projects, the expressway will connect the two capitals of the state Mumbai and Nagpur.

For Maharashtra to rapidly scale to a one trillion dollar economy, it must commission large-scale infrastructure projects all over the state — in terms of roads, railways, metro, ports and seaside living spaces, tourism infrastructure, airports and low-cost housing.

With the fall of the MVA government, here is a list of infrastructure projects in Mumbai and Maharashtra that are likely to get a new lease of life or regain momentum. Given the challenges that these projects face, the new government faces an onerous task to take them forward.

Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR), the only sanctioned high-speed rail project in the country,The ambitious high-speed railway network between two of the most developed cities in western India will pass through the 508-km-long network through Mumbai, Thane, and Palghar in Maharashtra and Valsad, Navsari, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Kheda, and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

The project has hit a roadblock on the Maharashtra side due to land acquisition issues, but project work is rapidly progressing on the Gujarat side of the project.

According to the Ministry of Railways, all statutory clearances relating to wildlife, the coastal regulation zone (CRZ), and forest clearance have been obtained for the project. Of the 1,396 hectares of land needed for the MAHSR project, 98.79 per cent of the land required in Gujarat has been acquired, while in neighbouring Maharashtra, the figure stands at 71.49 per cent. The central government has acquired 100 per cent of the 7.9 hectares of land required in the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

Besides stonewalling the project by refusing to co-operate in land acquisition, the Thackeray-led dispensation also fuelled divisive rhetoric to oppose it.

At a political rally in Mumbai, Thackeray made a bizarre allegation that the Bullet Train project was being implemented to separate Mumbai from the rest of Maharashtra.

Thackeray further claimed that the Bullet Train Project was a ploy to break Mumbai. “What do they mean when they say they will make Mumbai independent? Is our country and Maharashtra under occupation?”

The MVA government also refused to hand over government land for the BKC underground station of the Bullet train project.

Mumbai Metro Line 3

Another critical infrastructure project that the Fadnavis government accelerated, and is now delayed, is the 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro 3 Line. The first underground metro line in Mumbai, Metro 3 Line, will have 26 underground stations and is estimated to cost Rs 30,000 crores.

As per the initial plan, the first phase between Bandra and Seepz was planned to be completed by December 2021 and the second phase from Bandra-Kurla Complex to Colaba by June 2022, but Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL), which is executing the project, announced recently that work on even the first phase of Metro corridor between Bandra-Seepz would be completed by January 2024.

The Fadnavis government had announced that the car shed for the Metro 3 Line will come up at Aarey Colony. Egged on by Aaditya Thackeray, the heir apparent of the Thackeray clan and cheered on by a motley bunch of South Mumbai elites, the MVA government scrapped the plan to build the shed at Aarey Colony, throwing the project into turmoil. It declared that the metro shed would instead be shifted to Kanjurmarg. But the Kanjurmarg plot ran into multiple litigations and lawsuits, with even the central government being a party to the dispute.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is now exploring options other than Aarey and Kanjurmarg for the car shed.

Ratnagiri Refinery Project

The Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical Limited, billed as Asia’s ‘biggest oil refinery, was proposed to be built at Nanar village in Ratnagiri district in the coastal Konkan region. The project is planned as a joint venture between Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum, Saudi Arabia-owned Aramco and United Arab Emirates’ National Oil Company.

The project was mooted by the Centre and the Maharashtra government in 2015 and aimed at bringing development to the backward Konkan region. It was estimated that the project would bring in investment to the tune of Rs 3 lakh crore, generate employment for at least one lakh local residents and process up to 60 million metric tons of crude oil per annum and to produce a range of refined petroleum products meeting BS-VI fuel efficiency norms.

The project was scrapped ahead of the 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, as the Shiv Sena leaders believed the oil refinery would be detrimental to the Konkan’s ecology and environment. Uddhav Thackeray himself led the resistance to the project. Thackerary even said he would not allow even “an inch of land” to be acquired for the project. His son, Aaditya Thackeray, also said that the Shiv Sena opposed the project as it would have had a detrimental impact on the environment and the “sons of the soil” were against it.

However, after assuming the office of CM, Thackeray recalibrated his position. He recently said that while the proposed oil refinery project would not come up at Nanar village, an alternative site was identified for the project.

Marathwada Water Grid Project

Marathwada Water Grid Project was conceptualised and announced by the Fadnavis government in 2016. Estimated to cost Rs 25,000 crore, it envisions an integrated piped network connecting 11 dams in the parched Marthwada region to ensure a year-long water supply for drinking, irrigation and industrial purposes. The 11 dams that will be connected include Jayakwadi, (Aurangabad), Yeldari (Parbhani), Siddheshwar (Hingoli), Majalgaon and Manjra (Beed), Lower Terna and Sina Kolegaon (Osmanabad), Dhanegaon (Latur), among others.

Israel’s national water company, Mekorot was roped in to help the state government develop the water grid. Mekorot, famous for building the Israeli national water grid, identified the technology required and prepared a water supply master plan.

While the MVA government did not officially abandon the project, fearing a potential backlash, no progress has happened on the ground.

“When BJP was in power from 2014 to 2019 in the state, our government approved Water Grid Project. But Maha Vikas Aghadi government has stalled this project. Even good water conservation projects undertaken by us like Jalyukta Shivar and micro irrigation projects have been stopped.” Fadnavis recently said while addressing Jal Akrosh Andolan in Aurangabad city. “Since MVA came to power, all people oriented-projects have been scrapped. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s car is the only one which is running.” he added

Vadhavan Port

The proposed Vadhavan port, which will be India’s 13th major port, has been planned by the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) as an ‘All Weather, All Cargo’ satellite port to enhance capabilities in handling deep-draft ships and larger vessels. With an increase in container shipping, the port, which will be close to the JNPT in Uran, Navi Mumbai, is also expected to handle the spillover in container vessel traffic at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, which is India’s top container port.

The port project, estimated to cost Rs 65,544.54 crore, is part of the Centre’s Sagarmala initiative that aims to make Indian ports major contributors to the country’s GDP. The JNPT and the Maharashtra Maritime Board are development partners for the project.

Stressing on the ecological sensitivity of the area, a section of local population have opposed the construction of the port as it will not only hurt the flora and fauna of Dahanu, but will also disrupt allied activities like fishing and farming. Shiv Sena till recently was opposed to the project.

Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project

The government recently accorded ‘In-Principle’ approval of the site at Jaitapur in Maharashtra for setting up six nuclear power reactors of 1650 MW each in technical cooperation with France which would make it the largest nuclear power generating site with a total capacity of 9900 MW.

The project is proposed to be set up at Jaitapur site in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. But despite plant construction scheduled to start in late 2018, vehement opposition from local farmers and residents on the Konkan for more than a decade grounded the project.

The Shiv Sena had slammed the Centre’s approval. It stated that it firmly stood with the locals of the Konkan region who had been opposing the project for several years now. “The local population is dead set against the project, which is hazardous and which will impact the entire Konkan coastline”‘ said a local Sena MP.