Mumbai’s four-decade-long wait for the longest bridge in India nears its end
Environmental activists however, had been crying foul over the effect on the Sewri mud-flats which attract migratory flamingos and the alignment was consequently changed.
The Mumbai Trans Harbor Link (MTHL), also known as the Sewri-Nhava Sheva bridge is soon set to become a reality. (Photo | PTI)
By Abhijit Mulye
Express News Service
The Mumbai Trans Harbor Link (MTHL), also known as the Sewri-Nhava Sheva bridge, is a classic example of how mega infrastructure projects can get delayed for a mind-boggling number of reasons. The idea for the link was first mooted in 1963 by Wilber Smith and Associates when they were commissioned the task of transportation and traffic planning for Greater Mumbai. Named Uran Bridge then, the agency mooted the idea even as they were unsure of traffic and it was abandoned in 1981 after the success of Vashi Bridge connecting Mankhurd and Vashi in Navi Mumbai.
The proposal was revived only in 2004 after Navi Mumbai’s development moved into top gear and even the two bridges between Mankhurd and Vashi began seeming inadequate for smooth traffic flow. Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) moved a proposal to build the link, but again, for mysterious reasons, the proposal went back into cold storage.
In 2005, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) began inviting fresh bids for the project. A consortium of Anil Ambani-led Reliance Energy (REL) and Hyundai Engineering Construction Company quoted a concession period of 9 years 11 months against 75 years quoted by Mukesh Ambani’s Sea King Infrastructure. MSRDC deemed both bids by the Ambanis as unrealistic, ending the process inconclusively in 2008.
Though the bids were invited again in 2008, the feud between the ruling Congress and the NCP resulted in none of the 13 companies who had shown interest turn up to submit bids. Around this time, responsibility for the project was transferred from the MSRDC to the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA). Three years later in 2011, MMRDA appointed consultants for techno-feasibility studies for a Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
The Sewri-Nhava Sheva bridge crosses the Thane creek (Photo | EPS)
Things started moving faster after 2012. Environment clearances had lapsed, and another year had to be spent until they were re-issued in 2012. The Department of Economic Affairs recommended granting Rs 1,920 crore for the project, and Coastal Regulation Zone clearances arrived in 2013 with a nod from the Centre. However, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) now wanted the link to be constructed at a height of 51 meters instead of 25 meters to enable movement of huge ships. In parallel, bidders shortlisted in 2012 started withdrawing owing to “government apathy” and the model was scrapped.
In 2013, the MMRDA decided to go ahead on a cash-contract basis with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) expressing interest in funding the project. In June, 2014, JNPT also agreed to pick up a stake. After the BJP came to power, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis made it a priority. However, time was lost when Union Ports minister Nitin Gadkari favored an underground link while Fadnavis supported the traditional design. However, after the clearances arrived from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the forest department, and JICA agreed to extend a loan of 80 per cent of cost, and the foundation stone was finally laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dec 24, 2016.
Environmental activists however, had been crying foul over the effect on the Sewri mud-flats which attract migratory flamingos and the alignment was consequently changed and construction began in April 2018. Currently, around 10 per cent of the 21.8 km long 6-lane freeway grade road bridge is completed, with the project cost expected to hit Rs 13,400 crore.