Regional politics hits Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway project
Mumbai: At first glance, there seems little to complain: A Rs46,000-crore expressway to connect Maharashtra’s prosperous west with its less fortunate east, cutting Mumbai-Nagpur road travel by 10 hours, and promising to create hundreds of thousands of jobs along the way. A dream project for chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
However, the project—the Mumbai-Nagpur Maharashtra Samruddhi Expressway (Mumbai-Nagpur Prosperity Corridor)—has also revived a debate on regional imbalances and triggered protests. Some farmers have objected to land acquisition and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar has backed their agitation. The protests have made some wonder: Is there more to it than meets the eye?
Government officials pushing the project and politicians from across the parties in Vidarbha and Marathwada—two regions expected to benefit from the project—said opposition to the Samruddhi Expressway is being “masterminded and orchestrated” by politicians from western Maharashtra who find their interests threatened. They concede some farmers in Nashik could lose their farms, while adding opposition is being “engineered” in Ahmednagar and Thane to scuttle the project.
“Pawar saheb has announced that he will talk to farmers on June 12 and then formulate his strategy,” said a former NCP legislator from Vidarbha. “But we have requested our state-level leaders to persuade him to not go on a collision course with the state government on this project. It is after decades of neglect that Vidarbha and Marathwada are getting their due and current as well as former legislators from all parties want Fadnavis to push this project. We gave a cold shoulder to activists from Thane and Nashik districts who visited Vidarbha to mobilise public opinion against the project,” he said.
A senior official in the chief minister’s office said that “politicians from Mumbai-Pune regions and their proxies in administration” were trying to prevent Vidarbha and Marathwada from integrating with the prosperous parts of the state and benefitting from the spread of industry and jobs. “There is a reason why almost all of those opposing the project have their political pocket-boroughs in Western Maharashtra only,” he added, requesting anonymity.
Expected to be completed by 2020, Samruddhi Expressway is one of India’s biggest public infrastructure projects. The Fadnavis government calls it the prosperity corridor because, it claims, it will bring prosperity to the backward regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha, and integrate the state’s hinterland with the vibrant Mumbai region.
Government agency Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which built the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, India’s first expressway, in the late 1990s, is the nodal agency for the project. The expressway will run through 10 districts (of which seven are in Vidarbha and Marathwada) and connect 14 of Maharashtra’s most backward districts—6 in Vidarbha, 4 in Marathwada, and 2 each in Khandesh and Konkan, with a network of national highways passing through them.
“It is going to be a logistical, industrial, tourism, and communication corridor that would trigger economic and industrial opportunities for Marathwada and Vidarbha. Marathwada and Vidarbha cannot afford to lose this opportunity,” said Radhesham Mopalwar, vice-chairman and managing director of MSRDC. He recalled that the detailed project reports of two expressways between Nashik-Mumbai and Mumbai-Pune had recommended these projects way back in 1994-96.
“Of these two, the Mumbai-Pune expressway was taken up and built while Nashik somehow got pushed back. The result is that sprawling industrial townships and IT parks developed along the Mumbai-Pune expressway created jobs. In Hinjewadi (near Pune) alone, around 1 lakh people are employed,” Mopalwar said. He pointed out that the industrial estates developed by Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) along the Pune expressway and in Thane and Raigad districts have few industrial plots left to offer to investors. “In contrast, thousands of acres of land will be unlocked in Marathwada and Vidarbha by the prosperity corridor and this would take industrial and economic activity to regions which are solely dependent on dry-land farming or on Mumbai-Pune region for jobs,” he said.
The total land requirement for the project is around 10,000 hectares, of which 8,400 hectares would be needed purely for the expressway construction (120 metres wide) and 1,600 hectares to build wayside amenities and infrastructure. “We have completed the joint measurement survey (JMS) mandatory under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 for 675km of the total length of 700km and land compensation rates for all land holders in 394 villages that the expressway will go through will be declared from Monday. We have not acquired an inch of land yet, but we want to finish land acquisition by September 30 and begin work in October this year,” Mopalwar said.
Of the estimated cost of Rs46,000 crore, MSRDC will borrow Rs35000-40,000 crore from 19 lenders. Rs28,000 crore is the actual cost of construction, Rs10,000 crore is for land compensation and Rs8,000 crore for interest payment during construction, Mopalwar said.