Recent s reports say that Phase 1 of the Coastal Road Project is 80% complete and will be operational by May 2024, missing a deadline of November 2023. The coastal road project, which starts from Priyadarshini Park and goes up to Baroda Palace as part of Phase 1, is an 8-lane road link along the Mumbai coastline that connects Marine Drive in South Mumbai to Kandivali in North Mumbai. This fancy road project, when fully operational, is believed to relieve traffic congestion. It is also expected to help reduce noise and air pollution between Marine Drive and Worli by taking the pollution into the sea. Incidentally, these two South Mumbai neighbourhoods are where the rich and mighty dwell, ironically, next to vast expanses of slums of teeming millions.
This upcoming highway gets a connectivity boost from another equally ambitious road project through the sea – the Trans Harbour Link and Sewri Nhava Connector that connects these South and North Mumbai neighbourhoods with those in Navi Mumbai and beyond. This road, too, has a 2024 deadline to become operational. In August, six tenders worth Rs 16,621 crore were floated for the next phase of the coastal road project between Varsova and Dahisar, which will be much longer than the 10.58 km being built in Phase 1. These projects are expected to speed up Mumbai’s traffic by removing congestion from the existing roads.
A striking feature of the coastal road project is its large intersections protruding into the sea in a fancy oval pattern, standing atop pillars. These picture-perfect road intersections will surely be the new identity of Mumbai in the coming days. The coastal road project had invited environmentalists’ objections in its early stages, and the Mumbai high court had stayed work on several occasions. Incidentally, the coastline that the coastal road project uses for Phase 1 is the only beach area accessible to the people. The Indian Navy and JN Port use others. The fishing community who lived near Marine Drive and Worli areas and would go fishing into the sea from here fought the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) project tooth and nail. But given their dwindling numbers and feeble fighting power, their agitations yielded virtually nothing.
With the coastal road project taking centrestage, the idea of a beach holiday in Mumbai, even for a few hours, is junked into the dustbin. Despite having a good measure of seashore, Mumbai doesn’t figure in global beach tourism. Far from pristine beaches, Mumbai beaches are filthy and stinking, with garbage and drains everywhere. One can hardly spend a few hours near these beaches. Leave alone beach umbrellas and eateries, they don’t have anything that remotely connects the place to tourism. With fishermen and their boats gone, beaches dirty and stinking, contoured by high-rises and shanties in a chaotic set-up, Mumbai is a big mess!
Mumbai’s loss is the gain of neighbouring coastal cities in other countries – Dubai, Male (Maldives), and Port Louis (Mauritius). These cities and countries have excellent beach tourism resources — clean and sandy beaches with trained hospitality staff. Most Mumbaikars who can afford it go there now and then for a few days of quiet and soothing holidays.
The coastal road project got the push in 2018 when Devendra Fadnavis was Maharashtra’s chief minister. The Mumbai Metro project also took off on a promising note during his tenure. Globally, it has been accepted that public transport is the best solution to reduce pollution and traffic congestion. Making new roads, which comes with a substantial investment, induces new people to buy private vehicles. In this context, the right way to tackle the issue was to invest in Maharashtra’s public transport systems – buses, boats, metros, and rapid rail transport.
Studies suggest that the construction of coastal road projects has caused irreparable damage to the marine life along the coast. But no tears are being shed for that. As regards the government’s attention to public transport, the best thing is to say nothing. For example, Navi Mumbai ranks among the top cities in cleanliness. With over a million people, the city has the first lane of all the roads parked with private vehicles. It is not just in the night. They are there all day and night. Besides commenting on the quality of administration provided by the local bodies, they also comment on how public spaces are denied to ordinary citizens. The story of Mumbai beaches gone to dogs and Navi Mumbai’s roads to stray and abandoned vehicles have a common thread.
It’s the incompetence of the administrators. (IPA Service)