Bandra-Worli Sea Link’s initial plan was modified to benefit construction companies?

Flickr/ Neeraj

Activists are demanding a CBI inquiry for investigating if Sudhakar Shetty and Babulal Verma (Omkar Builders) influenced the officials to make changes in the BWSL plan.

The Bandra-Worli sea link is considered as one of the most beautiful landmarks in Mumbai as well as the city transport system’s integral artery. However, people who use it on a daily basis need to pay a hefty sum of money as a toll. A considerably high amount of toll is recovered from users in spite of the fact that this is an intercity sea link.

In almost all the Indian states, the toll is collected as per Rs. 2.50 per kilometer. But, when it comes to Bandra-Worli sea link (BWSL), commuters pay Rs. 10 per kilometer.

The 5.6km sea link became operational in 2009. Its maintenance and toll collection is managed by a company called-Mumbai Entry Point Limited (MEPL). Jayant Mhaiskar owns the company, and he enjoys a good relationship across the country’s political spectrum.

From 666 crores to 1306 crores!

The cost of this project escalated a lot in the later stage. Thus, the journey on this landmark has become expensive for users. Most importantly, travelers will have to keep on paying the toll for the next 35 years. The BJP-Shiv Sena government has failed to offer relief to the Mumbaiites from this loot.

As per estimates, Mumbaikars will have to pay the concerned toll till 2052 to settle the contractor’s bill.

Loss worth crores of rupees due to an escalation in the construction cost

BWSL is an 8-lane coil supported concrete bridge that connects Western Suburbs (Bandra) of Mumbai with Southern part of Mumbai. It also plays a crucial role in the Western Freeway project. The BWSL was commissioned by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation and constructed by the Hindustan Construction Company.

Late Balasaheb Thackeray laid the foundation stone for the project in 1999. Initially, the construction cost for the project was estimated to be 666 crores. But due to negligence in construction work and multiple petitions from environmentalists, the actual construction cost crossed 1306 crores. Now, apparently, this additional burden is being recovered from the common man’s pocket every day in the form of the toll. Activists suggest a lot of changes were made in the initial plan to benefit the construction lobby that has developed properties nearby the sea link’s DP road in Worli.

Not at all pocket-friendly

Photo: The Asian Age

The Sea Link allows the users to travel between Bandra to Worli in just seven minutes. However, this journey does not prove to be pocket-friendly for the commuters. The toll is collected from around thirty thousand travelers on a daily basis. Plus, during the evening, due to heavy traffic, the journey takes more than seven minutes. Thus, not just the cost but the whole purpose behind constructing the sea link has gone for a toss.

Standing Committee’s recommendations ignored?

A standing committee was formed to investigate the factors behind the increase in the cost of Bandra-Worli sea link construction. In its report, the committee had recommended that guilty officials and parties involved in the project should be asked to compensate for the damages.

Surprisingly, the state government has marginalized the issue of recovering losses from guilty officials. Instead, it has just passed on the additional burden on the commuters.

Vehicles with Mumbai registration should be exempted from toll

As mentioned earlier, Bandra-Worli seal link is an intercity sea link. So, like in other Indian cities, at least vehicles from the same city should be exempted from toll. But, that’s not the case; the public is being robbed openly.

Often used as a suicide point

Man Attempts Suicide on Bandra Worli Sea-Link, Rescued.

Several people have committed suicide from the Bandra-Worli sea link. A dozen suicide cases were reported during the last year alone. Activists had filed a PIL regarding the increasing number of suicides. Due to the court’s order, authorities were forced to install CCTV cameras and increase the security as well.

The U-turn

Several activists, including Mumbai-based Dilip Inkar, believe that a U-turn was added in the BWSL plan at a later stage to benefit Babulal Verma (Omkar Builder) and Sudhakar Shetty (Taranum Barbala Fame). Companies owned by Verma and Shetty have developed multiple projects in the Worli area where the sea link was to be connected as per initial plans. But, a U-turn was added to the project to benefit these two. Dabang Dunya tried to get in touch with the two builders to know their side of the story, but attempts did not yield any response.

Activists are demanding a CBI inquiry for investigating if Sudhakar Shetty and Babulal Verma (Omkar Builders) influenced the officials to make changes in the BWSL plan.

“The government is openly robbing people in the name of toll for using the BWSL. We will organize protests and peaceful demonstrations against this loot,” said activist Naresh. P. Jain during his interaction with Dabang Dunya.

BJP’s U-turn

Before coming to power, the BJP Maharashtra leadership had promised a complete road toll waiver in the state. However, after winning elections on Modi wave, they simply took a u-turn and said making roads toll free is not their agenda. Huge amounts of road tolls collected from Mumbai’s five entry points can prove to be a crucial election issue during the upcoming Lok Sabha and state assembly elections.

Unmesh Gujarathi is Resident Editor of Hindi Daily Dabang Duniya (Mumbai Edition). (Editing: Nitten Gokhaley.)

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