Mumbai: Maharashtra government and Anil Ambani controlled Reliance Infrastructure Ltd (R-Infra) are at loggerheads over the issue of tariff for the first line of Mumbai metro rail between the western suburb of Versova and the eastern suburb of Andheri.

Maharashtra government has moved the Bombay high court opposing the proposed tariff hike by R-Infra. Mumbai is set to get a modern metro rail network, with R-Infra all set to start commercial operations from 12 noon on Sunday.

With this first rail connectivity, Mumbaikars can avoid as many as 45 traffic signals and reduce travel time to 21 minutes from between 90 minutes and 120 minutes now, said Abhay Mishra, chief executive officer at Mumbai Metro One Pvt. Ltd’s (MMOPL).

MMOPL has announced a promotional fare of 10 for the first 30 days. The fare is irrespective of the distance travelled on the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar (VAG) corridor for a single one-way trip between any stations. The promotional fare is notwithstanding the initial fare fixed and notified separately on initial opening of the metro railway under Central Metro Act, MMOPL said in a statement.

MMOPL is a joint venture between R-Infra and Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA). R-Infra holds a 74% stake in the JV.

Giving his conditional consent to inaugurate the first line of the metro rail, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said, “I have agreed to inaugurate the first line of Mumbai Metro only if the company charges fares as per the rates agreed in the concession agreement signed between MMOPL and MMRDA—the nodal agency for the project."

Addressing a press conference on Saturday, Chavan said, “according to concession agreement signed between MMRDA and MMOPL, fares were fixed between 9 and 13". “However, MMOPL is demanding that it should be allowed to charge fare between 10 and 40, citing increase in the cost of project from 2,356 crore to 4,321 crore," the chief minister said. The cost of the project has increased as it has been delayed by three-and-a-half years.

MMOPL executives said that the network operator would be now fixing the fares for this project as it is notified under the Central Metro Act. The state government has been advised by the central government that the fare shall be fixed afresh and as per the Central Metro Act. The Centre has further advised that MMOPL shall fix the fare, said a senior executive, requesting anonymity.

Chavan said his government’s stand is clear—MMOPL should first roll out the service and then move to tariff fixation committee (TFC), which is headed by a retired high court judge, to present its case for any revision of charges.

“Obviously, we are opposed to this stand of MMOPL. The MMRDA have moved a petition to the Bombay high court and requested the court to restrain MMOPL from implementing any arbitrary tariff hike. The MMRDA’s petition will come up for hearing on Monday," Chavan informed. He also alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to rush through the inauguration as it wants to help MMOPL to impose exorbitant tariff hike.

Though R-Infra executives were harping on 10-40 fare in the morning, the company came up with promotional fare of 10 after Chavan’s statement, giving itself a month to fight out the fare controversy.

Decks were cleared for the inauguration at the weekend of the first line of the Mumbai Metro between Versova, Andheri and Ghatkopar with the railway ministry giving it the safety and security clearance on Thursday. The 11.4-kilometre line was built over nearly seven years. The project’s original deadline was December 2010 but delays in land acquisition, shifting of utility lines and getting permission for constructing an overbridge at Andheri delayed the project by three-and-a-half years.

According to consulting firm EY, strengthening transport infrastructure is critical for India’s financial capital where, on average, a resident spends four hours a day commuting.

Greater Mumbai, which covers Colaba in the south to Mulund and Dahisar in the north and Mankhurd in the east, with a population of 16.4 million, houses twice as many people as New York City, says the website of EY. Suburban Mumbai has a density of 20,925 persons per sq km, twice that of New York’s.

“Complement this with the fact that the island city of Mumbai saw a decline in population, losing 140,000 residents, while the suburban areas gained 13.2 million, mostly driven by lower real estate prices in the suburbs," said EY.

MMOPL, in its statement, said keeping in view the convenience of the commuters on the busy 12-km-long domestic-cum-commercial hub of Mumbai, it would run the service between 5.30am and 12 midnight on all working days at a frequency of just below four minutes during the morning and evening peak hours and eight minutes during lean hours.

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