Interview with U.P.S. Madan: “The metro rail segment has become a key focus area of the government”

“The metro rail segment has become a key focus area of the government”

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) of the Maharashtra government is the apex body for planning and coordinating development activities in the Mumbai metropolitan region. The MMRDA has been taking several initiatives for the smooth and efficient implementation of projects across the metro, railway and road sectors. U.P.S. Madan, IAS, metropolitan commissioner, MMRDA, has been playing a proactive role in the development of the urban infrastructure sector in Maharashtra. In an interview with Indian Infrastructure, Madan talks about progress in the urban infrastructure sector, upcoming projects in the state, regulatory challenges faced in project implementation, as well as the future outlook for infrastructure development…

How has the urban infrastructure sector progressed in the past one year?

In the past few years, there has been some dullness in the urban infrastructure sector. However, progress in the sector has picked up, particularly in transport infrastructure. There has been progress in this sector across the country and in Maharashtra as well. The number of operational and under-construction road, flyover, metro rail, railway, and other infrastructure projects in the state has increased over time.

What is the implementation status of big-ticket projects in the state?

The metro rail segment has become a key focus area of the government in the past couple of years. In this segment, one of the main projects that stands completed involved the construction of an 11 km long metro line. Besides, three metro rail projects, involving a total length of 70 km, are under construction in Maharashtra and another 100 km of metro rail length is in the pipeline. Construction work on the planned metro rail projects is expected to commence by 2018.

The infrastructure sector is expected to witness significant activity in the next five-six years. Besides metro rail projects, another important project in the state is the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link Project. Bids for the project have been received recently. The contract for the same will be awarded soon and construction work is expected to commence in 2017 itself.

Besides, construction work on the Navi Mumbai International Airport has also commenced. In addition to this, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is expected to award the contract for the Mumbai Coastal Road Project soon.

What are the key issues and challenges faced in the implementation of infrastructure projects?

One of the key issues affecting sector growth is the delay in obtaining approvals from various government authorities and agencies. The time involved in securing coastal regulation zone (CRZ) and environmental clearances, besides obtaining no-objection certificates from various agencies, has been affecting the timely implementation of infrastructure projects.

Also, delays in land acquisition, the resettlement and rehabilitation of project-affected people, and the removal of underground utilities (such as gas, water and sewage pipes) are some of the factors that have been adversely affecting Mumbai’s infrastructure growth.

What are the regulatory challenges faced in the implementation of infrastructure projects?

The regulatory challenges pertain to securing approvals from various state and central government agencies. The process of obtaining permissions from such agencies is inevitably time-consuming.

What have been the changes in the process of obtaining approvals from state and central government agencies?

Governments, both at the state and central levels, have been taking a keen interest in expediting the process of obtaining approvals and reducing the delays involved.

One of the key initiatives in this direction is the introduction of a multi-purpose and multimodal platform, PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation). PRAGATI is a unique integrative and interactive platform aimed at addressing grievances, and simultaneously monitoring and reviewing important infrastructure projects and programmes. Besides, the concept of a “war-room” has been launched at the state level. These war-rooms are headed by the respective states’ chief ministers and are focused exclusively on fast-tracking top infrastructure projects and removing all the bottlenecks in the way of speedy implementation.

What is the status of infrastructure development in other cities of Maharashtra?

Projects entailing significant investments are coming up in Nagpur and Pune. Under the Smart Cities Mission of the Government of India, Maharashtra has been awarded the development of 10 smart cities. These are Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivali, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nashik, Amravati, Solapur, Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad. A special purpose vehicle and a smart city advisory forum will be established to monitor the work under this initiative.

What is the outlook for smart city infrastructure development in the state? How difficult has it been to get different agencies involved in the development of smart cities?

The concept of smart cities is based on good quality infrastructure. However, people find it difficult to use such infrastructure, be it the physical use of the infrastructure or the payment of dues for such usage. It is important that the experience is good, simple, comfortable and efficient. The process of implementing such usage is as difficult as the implementation of the infrastructure project itself. The concept of a smart city is a combination of various hard initiatives (physical infrastructure) and soft initiatives (improvement in schemes to make things easier for the general public).

What have been the key developments in the urban transport sector in the past year?

Public transport is a key driver of sustainable urban development. There has been an increased focus on the development of public transport in the country. Particularly, the development of metro corridors has been planned in at least 12-14 cities with the MMRDA alone spending about Rs 1,000 billion on metro corridors in Mumbai itself. Also, noticeable development has been witnessed across other sectors such as railways (both interstate and intra-state corridors) and port infrastructure, among others.

Is the public-private partnership (PPP) model the right model to go ahead with?

A few years ago, PPP was considered to be a good model for the implementation of infrastructure projects. However, barring road and highway projects, the experience with the implementation of PPP projects has not been good. Of the metro corridors coming up in 14 cities, only one is being implemented through the PPP model. Other than this, all the other projects are being implemented on an engineering, procurement and construction basis. Therefore, PPP is not thought of as a sought-after model in the case of public sector project implementation. However, for road and highway projects, there is greater scope for the PPP-based model because of the simpler arrangement for collecting tolls and maintenance of these projects.

What is the outlook for infrastructure development in the country?

Infrastructure development in the country is expected to expand further. Continuous investment in infrastructure is essential for the development of a country. Presently, there is a huge backlog of infrastructure in most of the cities. First, there is a need to deal with the backlog by further developing the already developed areas that are lacking adequate infrastructure like Mumbai and then shifting the focus to areas which have been neglected so far. There is a need to proactively shift the focus of development to such neglected areas so as to have balanced development across different cities in the country.