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A bridge over political waters

A bridge over political waters
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First Published: Sun, Jun 28 2009. 08 56 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Jun 28 2009. 08 56 PM IST
Thousands of harried commuters in Mumbai will find their daily journeys shortened from this week, following the inauguration of the 5.6km sea bridge connecting Bandra and Worli on the city’s western coast.
This sea link is one of the marquee urban projects of the state government, and hence it is no surprise that the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance has decided to postpone the much-delayed inauguration for a few more days to enable Congress president Sonia Gandhi to cut the ribbon a few months ahead of the state election.
But the sea link, for all its impressive engineering, is a classic case study of how India just cannot get its infrastructure act together.
The Bandra-Worli project is being completed at least four years behind schedule, costs have trebled and there was a time-consuming financial tug of war between the state government and the developer, Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd.
A couple of examples from other countries serve as useful points of comparison. The 7.8km Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden was built in four years and completed three months ahead of schedule. China’s 35.6km Hangzhou Bay Bridge near Shanghai was approved in 2003 and completed four years later. This is just one of the half a dozen sea bridges that China has built in this decade.
It is commonly argued that Indian projects such as the Bandra-Worli Sea Link get delayed because of the roadblocks put up by trigger-happy activist groups which launch public interest litigation (PIL) suits against infrastructure projects. That is not the entire story. Project planning in most parts of the world does take into account the concerns of local communities and interest groups. Even the Hangzhou Bay Bridge in authoritarian China involved negotiations with civil society.
The more serious problems are the lack of clear rules, the habit of altering contracts midway in the life of a project, a multiplicity of competing authorities and sheer corruption. The design of the national highways project shows that such obstacles can be overcome if there is political will.
How does the Bandra-Worli Sea Link project stack up against similar schemes abroad? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Jun 28 2009. 08 56 PM IST