Road infrastructure must be planned with priority for pedestrians, non-motorised vehicle traffic

By placing another option to bring in motorcar mobility at Haji Ali, the government of Maharashtra is giving scant respect to democracy, where 95% of Mumbai’s population has to suffer. This is because the state government is not prioritizing road public transport in all its infrastructure development projects

The Mumbai Metro Line II, originally planned to run from Colaba to Charkop (about 40 km), with Colaba to Mahalaxmi as underground. The underground stretch that was extended in plan up to Bandra (around 20 km) was changed to Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd (about 35 km), all elevated. This was done primarily due to cost considerations. As per a detailed article by the author in 2006, the underground stretch costing Rs975 crore per km would have touched Rs19,500 crore, in addition to elevated section costing about Rs4,000 crore, thus exceeding the entire projected cost of Rs19,525 crore for the 146.5km of Mumbai Metro Master Plan of 2004. This proves not just an error but falsity in estimates projections to get the Metro Master Plan cleared by the Cabinet.

From the experience of ongoing Mumbai Metro Line I, anticipating adverse effect to quality of life and commercial activities, the residents and commercial establishments along Bandra-Andheri section had engaged Prof Dhingra, noted expert on transportation engineering from IIT Bombay, to independently verify their fears. Prof Dhingra’s report clearly established that Socio-Techno-Economic study directs that the Metro should be underground and not elevated. With adverse effect on commercial activities, it must be understood that the livelihood of many who are employed is also at stake. Considering this, the Mumbai Metro Line II was dropped, at least for the time being.

When Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Ltd (MSRDC) was established by government of Maharashtra to prioritise urban area infrastructure, especially in Mumbai, among various flyovers, the Haji Ali to Wilson College viaduct was conceived. The route was Haji Ali, Tardeo, Nana’s Chowk and Wilson College. At some sections, it was in two layers. This would mean that all the southbound traffic would go via this route and definitely significantly add to the air and noise pollution on the route that already was having considerable traffic of its own. With time and increasing traffic, air and noise pollution would get worse. The residents and commercial establishments on this route protested. Thus far, the culture of public consultation did not exist in government planning. With people’s protests, government of Maharashtra, in 1999, decided to appoint a One Man Expert’s Committee, Prof Dhingra, to carry out feasibility study for mobility of motor cars from Haji Ali to Marine Drive (Wilson College).

The study considered five options. (i) Things as it is (and possibly considering one-way system with contra-flow-lane for bus routes), (ii) single deck flyovers, double decked at some stretches, over Haji Ali-Tardeo-Nana Chowk-Wilson College, (iii) single deck flyovers one over Haji Ali-Tardeo-Nana Chowk-Wilson College, and the other over Pedder Road-Babulnath-Wilson College. (iv) single deck flyover over Pedder Road-Babulnath-Wilson College route and (v) Several short flyovers at Haji Ali, Tardeo, Nana Chowk, Babulnath and Wilson College. The study directed to the option (iv) – the Pedder Road viaduct.

However, what has been ignored by the government and MSRDC is a strong recommendation of strengthening bus public transport. This was the time, when the Bogota Model of Bus Rapid Transit was in implementation stage, not operational stage.

We are all generally conversant with protests from Pedder Road residents. In order to pacify influential residents, MSRDC has held two ‘public consultations’ over the past decade. Politically, government is determined to establish that it is ‘supreme’, its actions are for public welfare and Pedder Road has become an issue for the state government to pursue with. On the other hand, residents have established that after the construction, neither would the temporary improvement in vehicular flow sustain and be significant nor would air and noise pollution, which will, in fact, deteriorate.

The Pedder Road residents looked for some alternatives that would improve the vehicular flow at Haji Ali. They have come up with an underpass concept that would not mar the aesthetics of Haji Ali junction while providing vehicular mobility. The through-tunnel concept is also being talked of. The latest idea is to provide a flyover from Haji Ali to Jaslok Hospital where the road is much wider and is not expected to cause congestion as is found generally along slip roads. This alternative is by MSRDC, clearly looking for government establishment of supremacy over citizens.

The 25kms Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) project that all along MSRDC was trying to get it moving off the ground without success was transferred to Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), another state-run agency, hoping that it would get on to execution stage. MMRDA too have not met with success so far.

The two state-run agencies work under two opposing political parties in the coalition government. Therefore, Pedder Road flyover has become ‘Brownie Points’ to score for MSRDC. They are fully determined to construct it.

In this muddle, what is lost out is the strong recommendation by Prof Dhingra for strengthening Road Public Transport in Mumbai.

The author has been consistently emphasising this, in his articles, utterances at the public consultations, his notes to the government and to the Ministry of Urban Development. There can be no improvement in road congestion levels in Mumbai, whether at Pedder Road or elsewhere, if priority is not given to mobility of people and not vehicular traffic. Efficient road public transport is possible by properly designed Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS).

Democracy is sham if 95% of on foot road and public transport users have to give in to the requirement of 3% population using motorcars, which is the main cause for congestion.

Whether it is the shortened Pedder Road flyover option or the “underpass” option or any option anywhere, road infrastructure must be planned with priority for pedestrians traffic, non-motorised vehicle traffic (since they exist and slowdown motorcar traffic) and the BRT. If this is not done, every road user has to suffer road congestion, air and noise pollution, and continue to contribute significantly to global warming and climate change. Do those in government understand this?

Citizen’s voices do get heard, and if government does not wish to hear it, the court of law exists, environment protection law exists and Right to Life, article 21 of Indian Constitution exists, which guarantees safe and comfortable life to its citizens. Choosing to keep quiet will only worsen the citizens’ plight.

(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07).  He is member of the committee constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the suburban railways system friendly towards Persons with Disability (2011- ). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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