With Maharashtra’s new coalition government taking a dim view of mega infrastructure projects approved by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led administration, Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Atlantic group, is in the city to protect his local interests. Branson is meeting Maharashtra’s new chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, on Thursday to clear “misunderstandings" over the proposed Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop project.
Virgin Hyperloop One had been working closely with the previous government to build the world’s first operational hyperloop on this route.
“It was just a courtesy call (with Thackeray) and also to ensure that any misunderstandings regarding the project are cleared," Branson said at a press conference. “We just need to see whether the new government is as keen as the old government."
In 2018, the previous Maharashtra government led by Devendra Fadnavis had approved Virgin Hyperloop One-led consortium’s plans to develop a high-speed line between Mumbai and Pune. Hyperloop is still an untested mode of transportation, based on an idea mooted by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. It involves building a near-perfect vacuum tunnel or tube, a railway track and a vehicle that magnetically floats above the track. A payload—passengers or cargo—then accelerates through electric propulsion and picks up speed due to extremely low friction in vacuum.
Virgin’s proposal for the hyperloop will be entirely funded through private investors, with the state providing land. Mint reported on 4 November that work on the project had slowed because of the lack of a safety regulator.
On 1 December, Thackeray said his government ordered a review of infrastructure projects as part of a wider audit and to determine priorities for his government. The projects include some big-ticket numbers, and the lack of clarity has made investors jittery. The government has already indicated that it is not keen on the ₹5 trillion refinery and petrochemicals complex in Raigad and the ₹1.2 trillion Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train.
“When there is a change in administration and you have a big project going on, it is important to have a courtesy call," Branson said. “Uddhav Thackeray and the various coalition people that he has around them need to meet people who are doing big projects or those wanting to do big projects in their state."
“One of things we need to make very clear, because there has been some misreporting and political ramblings, there is no money expected from the government at all, it is all going to be private money. The public will benefit massively from the service," Branson added.
Branson was in the city to announce the recent launch of a Mumbai-London direct flight by Virgin Atlantic.