Mumbai lags behind other Indian cities in infrastructure

October 11, 2013

By Rachita Prasad, ET Bureau |


“Mumbai lacks the political push that’s needed for these projects, while the government and state agencies in other cities are collectively working on clearing logjam on the ground so that they can expedite infrastructure projects,” an expert said.<br /><br /><br /><br />

(“Mumbai lacks the political push that’s needed for these projects, while the government and state agencies in other cities are collectively working on clearing logjam on the ground so that they can expedite infrastructure projects,” an expert said.)

MUMBAI: Vinayak Thakur, a foreign exchange dealer with a UK-based investment bank, has lived in Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai and currently resides in Bangalore. Looking back, he thinks the city of dreams, with its creaky infrastructure, is a nightmare.

With many cities such as Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and even relatively sleepy Jaipur rapidly modernising and developing swanky metro lines to ferry people, Mumbaikars, barring the privileged few who live and work in South Mumbai or posh pockets of some suburbs, are beginning to feel left behind. “Mumbai was the city where careers were made earlier, so people were ready to struggle everyday in the trains or fight the traffic on roads. Now other cities offer growth opportunity and have better infrastructure, so why would I want to live in Mumbai,” Thakur says.

The metropolis that once dreamed of becoming a global financial hub and outshining Shanghai offers choked roads, multitudes living in slums, and people taking jam-packed trains to their office that may be in a shiny tower in the middle of a dirty, low-lying locality.

Civic authorities admit there is chaos on the roads. “City suffers from serious traffic congestion with the average speed on major city roads being less than 15 km per hour. Due to lack of availability of land it is difficult to expand the road network and local trains are already overloaded, so building of a mass rapid transit system is the need of the hour,” Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority said after tying up funding for metro line III.

The city has built flyovers, a sea link that bypasses jammed roads on way from the airport to south Mumbai, and recently commissioned 16.8 km Eastern Freeway. But it hasn’t kept pace with demand and the congested city where land is scarce, has lagged behind other Indian cities in developing mass rapid transport despite grand plans. “The strategic planning done for Mumbai has been technically very impressive.

Agencies like MMRDA have explored all options, taken all factors into consideration and planned ambitious projects, whether it is a sea link or metro rail. The problem is that the pace of development is slow that it is leading to despair,” said Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman and co-founder of infrastructure consultancy firm Feedback Infrastructure.

Shobhaa De, author, columnist and a Mumbai resident, says, “We can’t speak of Mumbai in the same breath as London, Singapore or Dubai! We are resolutely in the Third World. Fifty years behind the others. Even Colombo has better expressways!”

A 2012 study conducted by global consultant Mercer on quality of living in Asia-Pacific ranked Mumbai 134 among 221 cities, Mumbai, however, was ahead of other Indian cities surveyed. But many experts believe other cities are beginning to race ahead.

While Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and even cities like Ahmedabad and Jaipur are adding new transport infrastructure, several mega projects in Mumbai haven’t moved beyond the blueprints. Some projects like the Rs 2,500-crore Mumbai Metro Line 1, and the Rs 2,500-crore Monorail projects faced hiccups due to delay in environment clearances, relocation of religious structures and issues relating to right of way, are nearing completion now. But the second phase of metro rail, extension of Bandra-Worli Sealink, new routes of monorail, Navi Mumbai international airport and the ambitious Mumbai trans-harbour link project which are critical to reduce the pressure on the city’s existing infrastructure have not taken off.

“Mumbai lacks the political push that’s needed for these projects, while the government and state agencies in other cities are collectively working on clearing logjam on the ground so that they can expedite infrastructure projects,” Chatterjee said.

Metro Line 1 took seven years before trial runs began in May this year. In contrast, Jaipur’s metro project, helped by the Delhi Metro, took only three years.

“It is not easy to build infra projects in Mumbai. The city is very dense. There are issues like litigation that causes delays. These delays have resulted in huge cost escalation and now many problems have been created because of this,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said last month. Indeed, Mumbai has its own problems.

Mumbai lags behind other Indian cities in infrastructure

The trans-harbour link project didn’t get any bids as developers had concerns over the financial viability of the project. The second phase of metro faces termination due to disputes between the state and Reliance Infrastructure. “The developer in Metro I project is asking for a major hike in tariff and advertising rights. We are not sure how this will work out. One option is to go into arbitration and the other is to negotiate. If it gets worse, we may think of even taking over the metro project. It is now clear that Mumbai’s Metro II project will not happen now,” Chavan said.

Experts say Mumbai faces a bigger challenge of bureaucracy, land acquisition and approvals than other cities because often there are conflicting views from within the government. A senior executive from an infrastructure conglomerate says, “For the ruling political parties, Mumbai is very strategic and important and often the two parties have different views on infrastructure projects. As a result the project suffers”. Another infrastructure executive says, “Sometimes we wonder if MMRDA and BMC work for the same city!”

The Congress-NCP government, which has ruled Maharashtra for three terms now, have often been at loggerheads over several projects in the past, some of which have eventually been scrapped. For instance, a feud between the NCP-led Public Works Department and the MMRDA and Urban Development department, both of which are led by Congress, has derailed several projects, including the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, industry executives say.

“Executing a project in a congested city like Mumbai is not easy as we don’t even get the land needed to set up site office and store our construction material. Also, it is very difficult to set up labour camps near the site,” said a senior executive heading a big infrastructure project. “We have even faced problems relating to migrant labours who are now choosing to work in other cities, which are affordable and where they don’t face discrimination.”

But Chavan believes that private players are shying away from projects in Mumbai, primarily because of the “economic slowdown and the lack of confidence among private players…We may be facing a difficult situation for some time to come but it is our attempt to instil a sense of confidence among the private players,” he said. Chatterjee of Feedback Ventures suggests that Mumbai needs to be developed on similar lines as Manhattan, the island city where the business hub is connected to the satellite cities through bridges, rail and road. “Mumbai needs a network of metro, elevated rail and bridges connecting the hinterland to the city so that the population spreads out evenly and eases the pressure on the city’s infrastructure.”

Manhattan or Shanghai may be a distant dream. Given how Mumbai is losing time, it may be left behind other Indian cities if new infrastructure projects don’t move on from blueprints to reality.



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