Delhi vs Mumbai: Delhiwallah wins with just one word — 'infrastructure'

While Mumbai dreams about becoming Shanghai and lives with the woeful tale of two bridges, Delhi has gone ahead and built a Metro rail network that stretches across 189.63 kilometres.

Ivor Soans November 09, 2011 12:05:06 IST
Delhi vs Mumbai: Delhiwallah wins with just one word — 'infrastructure'

Lock a Mumbaikar and a Delhiwallah together in a closed room and before you know it, they'll be fighting over which city is better. While bhelpuri versus dahi bhallas is an argument no one can win (I'll have both, please!), the Mumbaikar will twist his knife in with arguments on law and order, road rage, and that unique specimen feared by all members of the fairer sex — the Delhi male. All the Delhiwallah needs to whisper in order to turn the tables is the word infrastructure. And the Mumbaikar will go cry in a corner.

It's no secret that Delhi is miles ahead of Mumbai in the infrastructure stakes. While some Mumbai politicians have been selling us pipe dreams about transforming Mumbai into Shanghai, and some others have been defending Marathi pride, Delhi has gone ahead and built a Metro rail network that now stretches across 189.63 kilometres. Something that truly compares to Shanghai's public transport infrastructure and something really worth taking pride in.

Mumbai's first Metro line between Versova and Ghatkopar, a fully overhead east-west rail link over a distance of 11.07 kilometres has been under construction for the last 45 months, and no one except God Almighty knows if it will be operational even within the next 12 months. Interestingly, Delhi Metro built the Violet Line, a 20.2 km line connecting Badarpur to Central Secretariat, with 9 km being overhead and the rest underground, in just 41 months, and started services in October 2010. Double the distance, with a complex underground portion and yet, complete in 41 months. Sigh.

One of the biggest impediments to the first line of the Mumbai Metro is a bridge over the Western Railway main line at Andheri. After years of delay, the Railways have finally given permission and work has started, but things are proceeding at a snail's pace because of the conditions imposed by the Railways. While the concessionaire Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd (MMOPL) wanted all rail traffic suspended for five hours every night, the Railways have allowed work for only three hours every night, which means actual work happens for only an hour since the rest of the time is taken up in setting up and then dismantling equipment.

Delhi vs Mumbai Delhiwallah wins with just one word  infrastructure

Construction workers climb scaffolding as they arrive to work on the construction site of a metro rail project in May 2011. Reuters

While the MMOPL officials and their masters in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) express confidence that they will meet their revised August 2012 deadline, no Mumbai citizen shares their confidence. And here's why — these are the same bunch of worthies who have listed another crucial project as complete in a recent presentation to the Maharashtra chief minister.

Which brings us to the second bridge in our story. The one over the Central Railway main line at Kanjurmarg and crucial for the completion of the much-delayed World Bank-funded Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road, an arterial east-west road corridor.

While the MMRDA may list the project as complete, any sane person who uses this road or lives in the area would know that the final hurdle is this bridge where the 12-lane road narrows down to four lanes and virtually turns the road into a highway from hell. For almost 18 to 20 hours every day. Obviously, the cost in terms of expensive fuel wasted and productivity lost is colossal, and that doesn't take into account the stress caused thanks to the high blood pressure level that perhaps every driver on this terrible stretch suffers.

What makes things worse is that after Powai, the Vikhroli-Kanjurmarg stretch has seen a huge inflow of corporate offices and there's even an iconic 35-storey 5-star hotel being built by Radisson, which if it opens in 2012, seems well set to offer guests the opportunity to overlook one of Mumbai's worst traffic nightmares. Not what Radisson had intended surely, but what man proposes, MMRDA disposes.

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The bridge has been under construction for six years, but it was only in early November that the Railway authorities finally gave the go-ahead for work to be completed. Which makes me wonder — how is it that they manage to do it in Delhi? Doesn't the Delhi Metro pass over railway lines? Don't Delhi roads pass over railway lines?

Surprisingly, the Violet Line of the Delhi Metro I mentioned earlier includes a 100-metre-long bridge over the key Railway lines and a 167.5-metre long cable-stayed bridge across an operational road flyover.

So, why is it that infrastructure in Mumbai seems to be blocked by the Railways, while there seems to be no problem in Delhi. Is it that the Delhi bridges are designed to cause the least amount of disruption and hence get faster go-aheads from Railway authorities? Surely, it can't be a political problem because the Congress is in power in Maharashtra and the Centre, and despite all the nepotism the party is famous for, surely they know that what will get votes in Mumbai isn't Rahul Gandhi's charisma but faster development.

To me, it does look like the former. Railway authorities have hinted to the media in the past that the bridges could have made use of newer technologies in order to minimise disruption. But while no one from the Railways will go on record, it's a fact that the MMOPL has been incredibly lazy. For instance, designs for the bridge at Andheri were not submitted even by May 2010, when the then completion date for the Metro was just seven months away.

Which brings me back to the MMRDA. While the MMRDA has wasted crores of public money on a useless cycling track in the Bandra Kurla Complex, a snail would beat the nodal agency for much of Mumbai's infrastructure in terms of meeting deadlines on projects that really matter. Incidentally, the MMRDA is Congress-controlled, while the BMC, the municipal corporation is Sena-controlled. It is common knowledge that the MMRDA was set up to ensure the Congress got its share from Mumbai's infrastructure construction pie.

And even as the MMRDA bumbles from one deadline to another, the one thing that works in Mumbai are the Railway suburban networks. If anything happens to this suburban network, Mumbai will come to a standstill. Literally. And while it's crowded and a peak hour ride can make an outsider hate Mumbai for life, it works. Mostly like clockwork. So, you now understand why the Railways are extremely wary about giving go-aheads based on hot air and expecting designs on time. Which the MMRDA seems incapable of doing.

So, while we in Mumbai wait for years on end for these two key rail overbridges overseen by the MMRDA to be completed so that Mumbai’s infrastructure will see some improvement at last, Delhi will add many more world-class roads, more metro lines and truly become a world-class city.

While we continue to merely dream about becoming as good as Shanghai.


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