On 30 January, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis unveiled ‘Mumbai Next’, an initiative to transform the country’s financial capital into a global financial and entertainment centre. His government will hold a high-profile conference under the project’s banner on 6 February, which will be attended by Tata Sons Ltd chairman Cyrus Mistry, Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani, Union minister of state for finance Jayant Sinha, actor Amitabh Bachchan and film producer Rajkumar Hirani, among others.

Just a day earlier, Shiv Sena, partner of Fadnavis’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) in the state and centre, held a demonstration against Mumbai Metro’s planned Line III between Colaba in South Mumbai and Santacruz Electronic Export Promotion Zone (Seepz) in the western suburb of Santacruz.

The two events may seem totally unconnected, but the latter points to a key reason why Mumbai has struggled to fulfil its potential, while other cities have moved forward. The young chief minister surely dreams big, but will encounter tough challenges in achieving his goals.

Strategically located between the two major financial centres of Singapore and London, Mumbai definitely holds the potential—in terms of time zone—to become an international finance centre. However, it has never been able to do so because of its creaking infrastructure. Fadnavis can do little to open up the financial markets and make his city attractive for global finance, but improving Mumbai’s physical infrastructure is very much part of his mandate.

Sena’s protest on Thursday was also about the rehabilitation of potential PAPs around Line III of Mumbai Metro. This 33-km line will be built fully underground, as it traverses through thickly populated parts of south, south central and north central Mumbai. Many buildings in south and south central part of Mumbai came up in the early parts of the last century, and residents fear they may not able to withstand the vibrations from the underground drilling.

These residents complain that the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority (MMRDA), the nodal agency for Mumbai Metro, has not kept them informed of any possible danger to their homes and not taken them in confidence about any rehabilitation plan. Sena has tapped into these fears.

Of course, this is not the first time. The biggest challenge Maharashtra’s previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government faced in executing infrastructure projects was land acquisition and the rehabilitation of project-affected persons (PAPs). A project to build a 7-km. six-lane Santacruz-Chembur Link Road was launched in September 2003 and was expected to be completed in December 2004 at a cost of 115 crore. However, it took MMRDA 11 years to complete the project, with the cost trebling to 454 crore. The reason: About 3,500 families along the stretch who had to be resettled close to their original homes.

The Navi Mumbai airport project is another example. Here too, the state government could not reach an agreement with farmers over a compensation package. Out of 2,268 hectares (ha) of land required for the project, 671 ha. of land needed to be acquired from farmers as the rest belonged to various government agencies. However, negotiating with 1,167 farmers who owned this land proved to be a tedious task for City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco), the state government arm for infrastructure development and the nodal agency for the airport project. An agreement was finally reached in November. The farmers were assured that they will be given developed plots close to the airport equivalent to 22.5% of land acquired from them.

The project was given in-principle approval by the central government in 2007 and it was expected to be operational by 2011. Now, the Maharashtra government expects to complete the tendering by the end of this year and the first phase of project to be operational by 2019.

These are not isolated cases, but the fate of all infrastructure projects in Mumbai.

Fadnavis said his government was looking forward to use deliberations from the upcoming conference to finetune its strategies. He may indeed pick up some pearls of wisdom from this conference about financing models and the legislative and administrative framework required for executing such multi-billion dollar projects such as Mumbai Metro’s Line III whose estimated cost is $3.6 billion.

However, if Fadnavis hopes to complete or at least make substantial progress on infrastructure projects like Line III of Mumbai Metro or the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (Phase III) which involves extending and augmenting Mumbai’s suburban rail network during his tenure, he will have to display immense political skills in removing hurdles in land acquisition and rehabilitation of PAPs.

Fadnavis will have to be firm but magnanimous while dealing with PAPs and deploy the guile every politician must possess while dealing with rivals of his kind who claim to represent the interests of PAPs.

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