PMO pushes state on elevated rail corridor

In a rare intervention, the Prime Minister’s Office has stepped in to push through a vital project meant to decongest the city’s suburban rail traffic after differences between the state government and Western Railway ensured that the plan remained on paper even five years after being conceived.

Sources said the PMO has made clear its dissatisfaction over the delay in signing the support agreement by which the two sides would enter into a formal arrangement to implement the 63-km Oval Maidan-Virar elevated corridor project. It has asked the state government to resolve the differences and ink the deal on or before November 15.

While WR will execute the Rs 21,000-crore project, the state government will need to assist it in acquisition of land, relief and rehabilitation of the project affected people, temporary diversion of roads, and deciding on the extent of commercial utilization (allot additional FSI) of stations and certain other railway-owned land parcels to raise funds for the project.

The PMO’s intervention seems to have worked. The state government has set up a high-level committee to finalize the agreement draft submitted by WR and sought opinion from other stakeholders. The sources said CM Prithviraj Chavan is monitoring progress.

It is believed that senior railway officials approached the PMO as talks between WR and state officials were stalling. Planning Commission member Gajendra Haldea accompanied railway board
chairman Vinay Mittal for the latest round of meeting on October 15 and, sources said, sought an explanation on the delays. When state functionaries spoke about their concerns, the sources said Haldea shot back, citing instances of similar agreements in two dozen port and road construction projects.

WR officials blame the bureaucracy for the delay. On July 24, T C Benjamin, then additional chief secretary of the urban development (UD) department, had assured that the agreement would be inked in 15 days. Three months later, there’s no sign of it, point out railway officials. The UD department is now headed by principal secretary Manu Kumar Shrivastava.

On the other hand, UD officials say the project is not progressing due to a lack of clarity from WR on the financial model and the relief and rehabilitation plan. They claim that a detailed financial model is yet to be submitted though WR has sought commercial exploitation to the tune of 1.30 lakh sq m along the route to fund the project.

“They (railways) are demanding an FSI of 5 to exploit certain land parcels. How can such blanket permissions be granted without the financial feasibility being in place?” asked a state official.

WR officials argue that such a model cannot be devised until the state’s FSI is clear. “The standard practice is to finalize such a model after the support agreement,” a WR official said, adding that while Chavan was pushing the project, UD and MMRDA officials were posing hurdles.


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