Mumbai authorities seem to have abandoned all pretence that their proposed coastal road will be of any use to harried commuters in in the city.
On Friday, even as it gave its clearance for the road planned along Mumbai’s western coast, the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority scotched an accompanying plan for a Bus Rapid Transport System in favour of a tram system on the seaward side. This, it says, will be eco- and tourist-friendly. There might even be cycle lanes.
The 34-km eight-lane road is envisioned as an alternative to the existing traffic-clogged Western Express highway. It will run on reclaimed land from Kandivali in the north to Nariman Point in the south. It will pass above mangroves, ruin rocky beaches, possibly wreck the livelihood of several settlements of fishermen and ruin the open spaces that now line the sea. The city will get this for an estimated cost of Rs 12,000 crores, up from a simpler plan planned for Rs 8,000 crores in 2011 that was also sharply criticised.
On Monday, a scathing report compiled by the Independent People’s Tribunal on Mumbai’s Coast Road that solicited the views of researchers, civil engineers, environmentalists, scientists and former bureaucrats has condemned the plan unequivocally.
“The manner in which the project has been conceived and is being relentlessly pushed ahead as if it is a fait accompli, is a classic example of bad governance,” wrote DM Sukthankar, former commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, in the report.
This, he said, is characterised by the government’s failure to share information with the public, a lack of transparency, no public consultation and prioritising the interests of car owners over the vast numbers who use public transport.
The road might also result in a host of social changes – imagine a Mumbai with the uncertainty of where to immerse Ganpati idols during its annual visarjan, or without young people acting suicidal by taking selfies on the rocks at Bandra Bandstand, or having to cross eight lanes of heavy traffic just to have their view of the sea blocked by a vast walled road.
The road will cater to little over 1% of Mumbai’s population, the report said. These are people who drive cars and commute on the city’s more developed western coast. It is unlikely to do anything to ease commuter pressures within the city, as it makes no meaningful addition to the city’s overburdened public transport systems. Even if buses were to run on the road instead of trams, they would not be of use to people apart from the minority who travel along the western edges of the city.
Many people involved with the citizens' report point out that the government has not analysed whether the project is needed at all. The government's detailed project report and environment impact assessment has not studied alternatives for the coastal road for transport within the city.
“The fundamental problem is that there is no clarity about the purpose of the proposed Coastal road,” wrote Meenakshi Menon, founder and managing trustee of environmental NGO Vanashakti, in the report. “[…] Is it the new “icon” for Mumbai replacing the Bandra Worli Sea link or is it a means to unlock valuable CRZ hampered real estate on the western coast?”
She asked why it was necessary to build a road that few people would use, pointing out that the once-vibrant business centre of Nariman Point has been declining as an office-goer destination for years and that people are now travelling to the commercial hubs in the north instead.
The report’s origin-destination survey, points out retired Major General Sudhir Jatar, does not ask users if they will be willing to use the road.
If the toll rate for using this highway is set at just over Rs 10 per kilometre, which is the current rate for the Bandra-Worli sea link, a user might have to shell out as much as Rs 400 for driving the entire 34-km stretch. By comparison, it costs Rs 195 to travel by road from Mumbai to Pune.
The Centre and state have bent all sorts of rules to ensure this road will be built. In December, the central government amended a coastal regulatory zone notification that prevents land reclamation except for maintaining ports and jetties, to add an exception for roads built on stilts. The coastal road will be built on stilts. It also said that such roads could be built only in exceptional circumstances. These circumstances have not been specified for the coastal road.
Of more urgent concern are two tunnel stretches planned along the stretch. V Subramanyan, a former professor of geology at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, pointed out that there is a geological fault between Malabar, Cumballa and Worli Hills. Any tunnel built in this area could result in collapse in the event of an earthquake.
Reclamation for the Bandra-Worli sea link is thought to have caused the near-complete disappearance of Dadar Chowpatty in just five years, said Subramanyan.
“I don’t why they’re repeating the same mistake,” he said to Scroll.in. “Anything that involves reclamation is against nature. The shoreline acts as a line of control between the land and sea and maintains delicate balance. If you drain the sea back, it won’t keep quiet.”
With more reclaimed land on its western coast, it is highly likely that builders will push up property rates there with luxury apartments, instead of opening up land beyond the city for affordable housing, as Shirish Patel, an urban planner, civil engineer and commissioner of the report noted.
"If you try to understand why there is so much energy and drive behind this road, it can’t be just for car owners," Patel said to Scroll.in. "What is driving this? It must be the builder lobby that wants more land to build high value housing. Don’t believe for a moment that these green spaces will open to the public. Every open space in the city has been taken over. In the long run, it will happen here too."