31 March 2020


Tenders worth Rs 12,000-13,000 crore will be floated in 2014. That’s a big business opportunity


ASHWINI BHIDE, ADDITIONAL COMMISSIONER, MUMBAI METROPOLITAN REGION DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, has over the years, cultivated the ability to take both brickbats and encomiums in her daily stride. At her office in Bandra a newspaper report of a bridge project pasted to a side wall screams ‘How China builds these…And India never does’.  In a sense the cutting serves as an oblique reminder that if there are multiple hurdles in the effective implementation of projects, and that there is also an urgent need to find solutions to overcome them. In an interview with CONSTRUCTION OPPORTUNITIES, the IAS officer dilated on the challenges at the workplace and the prospects of important projects achieving completion in 2014.


Briefly tell us about your role as Additional Commissioner of MMRDA?  What are the key infrastructure/construction projects that you are currently overseeing?


MMRDA has ventured into various infrastructure projects since 2003. Initially the numbers of projects were limited but as the number of projects increased enormously there was felt a need to have an additional commissioner in place.  My responsibility here covers various key projects including those related to road improvement to specialised projects like elevated road connectivity, airport connectivity, bridges over rail and a series of flyovers across the city.  In addition, I am also in charge of monorail connectivity in Mumbai. Beside infra projects I am also in charge of some social projects like Nirmal-MMR sanitation campaign which is intended to remove the backlog of public toilets. I am also in charge of building a series of sky walks across the city.  Moreover, some other facilities such as solid waste management and bulk water supply are also being taken care of by me. In addition, Mumbai Trans Harbor Link (MTHL) and BKC entry point improvement project is also under my charge.


A major criticism is that other cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, even Jaipur and Ahmedabad, have stolen a march over Mumbai in terms of the speed at which the projects are being completed? How valid it that?


I really do not want to compare Mumbai’s development with the development of other cities. Five years back most of the projects were tendered but several of them remain stuck due to various reasons. It takes a lot of time to get these issues resolved. Yes, I do understand Mumbai’s pace of infrastructure projects is slow but that is because of back log. But without comparing with other cities the kind of projects we handle may not currently have visibility, but projects like Freeway, Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR) and Sahar Elevated Road will really help curb the city’s traffic problem. People should also understand that here challenges are more mainly because of the huge population density and structural constraints like environment and forest clearance issues, land acquisition etc. Unlike other cities, Mumbai does not have a single land available for infra projects. Thus, we have to either rehabilitate people or to fight with people for getting clearance, which is a time taking process. Further issues such as CRZ prevail only in Mumbai -- there is a lot of forest area to protect. I do not think other cities face such issues for infrastructure development. The irony of Mumbai’s infrastructure is massive development taking place on one side while on the other side we have flamingoes flying.


Is there any feeling of urgency on the part of the State authorities towards infrastructure development like other cities? Will the dream to make Mumbai Shanghai come true?


Yes, we have a dream to make Mumbai become like Shanghai. But, the question is: are we going to adopt their political system? Here we have so many stakeholders in a project. We need to have various clearances before entering any project. As a democratic country we have to pay heed to everybody's voice and need. For instance, there are number of claims in the Eastern Freeway project for which we had to create rehabilitation. There were almost 40 different agencies and 5,000 people we have had to settle down in the project. Besides, we also have to obtain BPCL and HPCL permissions because their refinery lies in between the project. Initially it was a huge task, but eventually we sorted it out.


I also must say for any infrastructure project the government should understand the need and urgency and take respective action. I have not seen any other state going ahead with such difficulties.  I would say there has been action and we also have our achievements. We completed Ambedkar road, Eastern Expressway, Western Expressway and even the latest addition of Eastern Freeway. From 2008 we covered the 14 km long Eastern Freeway and completed 12 flyovers. In addition we have also completed Milan and Dahisar foot overbridge and they have had a positive impact on traffic. Along with that there are several projects in the pipeline such as the Sahar Elevated Road which will also have a positive impact shortly. According to me most of the problems related to infrastructure development are not policy issues but are social issues. Yes, we are happy with what we have done. It’s a learning process and we are applying the learning to our future projects. Now, most of the projects get clearances much before going for bid. We offer our bidders a risk free project and we are awarding them after de-risking a project.  We are applying the same in our BKC connector project. Even in the case of Worli-Sewri Elevated Corridor Project we averted a lot of issues before calling a tender.


How much time you think should be appropriate for completing a flyover project?


Theoretically any flyover should be constructed within 12-18 months. We assume a bigger flyover should take 48-50 months but in my experience in the last five years whatever the size of the project if it needs railways or forest clearance, or if there is a land acquisition issue, you cannot get a project done for 5-6 years.


What about time overruns and cost escalation? Are you taking any measures to curb them?


We cannot envisage extra cost initially but now, based on our past experience, we have been able to gauge the problem much early. We have started working on finding out the cost structure in a scientific way so that the contractor doing the job should get the appropriate cost. So such learning by experience during implementation stage has resulted in saving cost escalation.


Would it be fair to say the various stakeholders of infra developments now understand better each other’s position?


Yes, in many projects already we have sat together and discussed issues much before the project took place. The actual paper can be signed later. So, now we work with them in advance understanding each other’s position in a much better way.  This is our learning and that is helping some saving in terms of time and cost. Moreover, we initiated some talks with the Railways as well as with the Environment Ministry for faster project clearances. We are also talking to committees created by us where senior consultants provide guidance.


How would you describe the feedback to the skywalks and the Freeway?  


Skywalk is a mixed experience as we received opposition from shopkeepers. The skywalks segregated pedestrian to walk on the road and ironically the media and hawkers’ group protested against the skywalk projects.  However, it created a positive impact for railway commuters and they are happy with this development. So, I would say it s a mixed experience. As skywalk is a part of the transport system for railway passengers, and as a responsibility of the civic body towards this end we created the infrastructure. But we have stopped any further development of skywalks. Now we have decided to let the need be generated and then again we will create new ones. The Freeway is a success story for us. It already has an estimated traffic of 26,000 vehicles. It also helps to connect south Mumbai in a much faster way.


Both the Monorail and the Metro projects have faced delays?


Monorail-1 has been inaugurated and the Metro is on the verge of completion. In the case of the Metro the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) and Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) are working on the clearances and that is currently in process. I cannot therefore make a firm comment on the commencement date of the Metro’s commercial operation.


Can you give us a timeline for your other projects?


We have started working on Eastern Freeway's remaining part. While the other tunnels have already been done – it is taking traffic to the other tunnel at Panjrapole junction – the Panjarpole-Ghatkopar stretch, the third phase of the elevated portion will be done by end of March. Similarly, two bridges on the Eastern Expressway and the Mahul Creek bridge work will be ready by the end of this month and end of February respectively.


What is the present status of the Mumbai Trans Harbor Link (MTHL) project?


We did attempt to start the project on PPP basis but due to the present adverse market conditions infrastructure developers like GMR, IRB or Tata were not willing to bid. So we have decided to go ahead on EPC basis. We also expect Japanese funding for this project. I expect, in the next 6-7 months, we will be able to float the tender for the MTHL project.


What is the total size of the projects MMRDA is handling – and therefore the business opportunity?


The entire project cost which includes ongoing and those in the pipeline would be around Rs 30,000-40,000 crore. Out of those in the year 2014 alone we will float tenders for projects to the tune of Rs 12,000-13,000 crore.


Which according to you are the projects which would be game changers for Mumbai?


Personally I do not think any project will change Mumbai's life dramatically. But yes, all these projects will work together as game-changers. The Freeway, which eases the traffic entry to South Mumbai is somehow a game changer. Similarly, Mumbai Metro-III line and MTHL will also be able to bring massive changes as the size of the project is too big. Besides, the Santacruz- Chembur Link Road and the Eastern Freeway, which will create a major impact on the entire region, are also game-changing projects.


Tell us about the comprehensive transport plan?


We have a comprehensive transport plan which is assessed on future population growth and accordingly suggests a improved transport system along with a business plan. The plan also includes solid waste management, the Taloja water project and the Surya bulk water supply project. The Karanja river bridge and other creek bridges are also part of the whole transport plan. Besides, we are also working on the extended Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP). In this plan we prepared the Kapurbawdi flyover and the one at Panvel which resolved traffic issues. We have also chalked out a plan for a flyover at Ghodbunder Road. We have also set aside almost Rs 4,000 crore projects intended to improve connectivity at different levels for cities like Thane, Bhiwandi and Kalyan.   These projects will clear the traffic which moves from the north to the south of the country. Along with that we are also working on a multi modal corridor between Alibaug and Virar.


If you were to pick up a single lesson from China’s infrastructure growth story what would that be?


I think timely project execution is a big learning one can derive from the China story – but that is because of their political and social set up.  We should have single window clearance process for infrastructure projects like them. But, at the same time we are argumentative Indians who follow the basic principle of democracy and we should honour that. Yes, the way people at the highest level take time on key decision making process should change so that it becomes a faster work implementation process. But we cannot expect anything and everything immediately.


What is your experience of working with private players?


We have little experience with private players as we did only one project on PPP basis. In my opinion as far as contractors are concerned we have good agencies but need professionalism, ability to deliver on time. The micro level planning is presently not there either with the contractor or the consultants. There is an urgent need for a training programme as there is a huge skills gap in this arena. As a facilitator we need to change India’s infrastructure scenario by filling these gaps. Unless contractors grow a sense of responsibility and professionalism no project will take place properly.


What can we expect from 2014 in terms of projects being completed?


I expect in 2014 we will be able to complete some major projects such as SCLR, Sahar Elevated Road and the Solid Waste Management project. Along with that mega projects such as MTHL and Metro line 3 are also expected to start this year....

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