Interview: Mr. R. A. Rajeev -MMRDA Metropolitan Commissioner

Mumbai City is undergoing a radical transformation. Over 160km of metro projects are under construction – so are multiple flyovers and roads. The primary body doing all this is MMRDA. With almost Rs 2 trillion worth of projects are under construction, GV caught up with MMRDA Metropolitan Commissioner, Mr. R. A. Rajeev, to get an idea of how the nodal agency views this mammoth infrastructure impetus. Mr. Rajeev is a 1987 batch Maharashtra Cadre IAS officer. He has earlier served as Principal Secretary (Expenditure) with the Government of Maharashtra, and also as the Joint Secretary (Fin), DEA, with the Government of India. Mr. Rajeev gave us an indepth view of all the developments undertaken by MMRDA in the city, and some deep insights into the vision and modus operandi of MMRDA. Excerpts from his exclusive interview with PhillipCapital’s GV team:

The Mumbai Metro Masterplan entails an exhaustive plan of over 250km of metro lines. Over 150km are currently under construction across the city, with literally every street and corner dug-up. What were the chief considerations while devising this plan and how did MMRDA conceive it?

Mumbai, as a city, has been driven by the suburban train system (which we call local). That has been designed in a longitudinal manner, providing only North-South connectivity. This ‘local’ system currently carries over 80 lakh (8mn) people, with a travelling density of more than 12 people per sq. mt. This is the situation that we intend to change – to provide a much more convenient and humane form of public transport.

The entire Metro Masterplan has been built as per the recommendations of a Comprehensive Transportation Study (CTS) conducted in 2008. The report, and its future versions, have focussed on creating a roadmap for 2031, and based on its latest version, we have built the roadmap for 2041. The plan focusses on providing more horizontal connectivity throughout the city – something that we do through line 1, 2B, and 6.

We also try to connect the far-flung suburbs to the main city and the CBD; we intend to achieve that through lines 2A, 4, 7, 9, 10, and 12. Lastly, we have also focussed on providing multi-modal transport across the city by providing interconnectivity across locals, metros, and buses. Many of our metro stations will have inter-change with the localtrain network and also with various metro lines. Line 6 will intersect with Lines 2A, 7, 3 and 4; Line 2B will have connections with lines 2A, 3 and 4 – similarly most lines have interconnectivity with many other lines.

This metro network – with the extended plan now going up to 337km – will add almost the same capacity as the current carrying capacity of the local train network. The objective is not just to decongest the local trains, but also the roads; incentivize more people to shun private transport and take-up public transport.

How is the progress on various lines, and what stage-wise commencement of operations do you expect for the network?

Line 2A and line 7 should become operational next year – we are actively working towards that. After this, we should be able to begin stage-wise operations for over 170km by 2023 – by then, we should have almost 200km of metro network under operations.

In fact, right now, we have over 150km of metro network under construction. I was discussing this with my colleagues – that we should perhaps try to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest level of construction activity in metros anywhere ever in the world. Now your research also boosts my confidence. This sort of thing could be good marketing for the projects that we are undertaking.

Which lines, apart from the current Metro Masterplan, are under consideration?

We are looking at three lines:

– Line 8 – which will connect the city’s currently operational international airport with the under-construction Navi Mumbai airport.

– Line 13, which will connect Kanjurmarg and Badlapur. This will be the longest single line of Mumbai’s metro, and we expect it to have maximum ridership when it is complete

– Line 14, which is planned between Mira Road and Virar.

All these lines are currently at the DPR stage and should see some activity next year.

One of the key reasons for the success of the Delhi Metro has been that most of its stations have huge parking space. A lot of people park their cars there, and use the metro for commuting to and from their work place. Are we planning something similar in Mumbai?

Arranging parking for cars will be difficult in Mumbai because of paucity of land. However, we are designing stations with many other features such as shared taxi/auto bays, cycle stands, and other forms of transport. We have also designed the network in such a way that no major place is more than 1km away from a metro station. So in that way, last-mile connectivity should not be a big problem.

The thing is that the mind-set and culture needs to change. For people to switch from private transport to public transport, we need a large network to be operational, which we expect by 2023. The drive from Marine Drive to BKC today takes at least an hour. But a metro journey will take a maximum 30-40 minutes, that too at a much lower cost and higher convenience. Once that mindset starts developing, the metro can be successful, even without parking facilities.

The +250km long metro network is being built at a cost of more than Rs 1.5tn. Assuming 50% of it is financed by overseas borrowings and 25% by the Central Government, what are MMRDA’s plans to arrange the remaining 25%? Does it receive any state support? Also, once the moratorium period is over, does the debtservicing obligation fall on MMRDA or the state government?

MMRDA has a lot of land bank, which we intend to monetize, to fund our roads and metro works. You would have read that we recently sold a land parcel in BKC to Sumitomo Corporation for almost Rs 22bn. These kinds of transactions are what we are looking for. Currently, we have a landbank worth almost Rs 750bn; so that should stand us in good stead for the near to medium term. However, we intend to monetize the landbank in a systematic manner.

And no, the state government does not provide any financial support; it may act as a guarantor in an overseas deal, but MMRDA has to arrange the entire financing itself.

The debt servicing of the loan is also MMRDA’s responsibility and we are hopeful that once the metro network becomes operational, fare collection would also lend support. Currently, the Metro Line 1 is generating over Rs 1bn EBITDA. With over 200km operational, we hope to generate much more than that.

We are also planning to develop Line 13 (Kanjurmarg to Badlapur) on a PPP basis. We expect maximum ridership on this route, which should attract private developers. If required, we can also provide VGF to make it more attractive.

Regarding metro fares – has there been any plan or decision on how these will be once the lines become operational?

Though there has not been any formal decision, we believe the fares will in the form of Rs 10-20-30-40. I don’t think we will have fares that are more than Rs 50-60, but there hasn’t been any decision on that yet.

We have seen that despite being fully operational, the Monorail frequency is very low, leading to very few people using it. Any specific reasons for this and what are we doing to resolve it?

Monorail is one project where, I believe, we made a mistake by choosing Scomi as the supplier for the rolling stock – which meant that we had put all our eggs in one basket. Now we are not able to get enough rakes or servicing from them. We are not even able to procure spare parts for it.

Initially, Scomi had supplied 8 rakes, out of which two burned in separate incidents. Earlier, we were operating with two rakes; now we have 5, keeping the rest for spare parts. But we are looking at various options now, including changing the vendor. This might not be easy, as the new vendor will have to fit the design specification of the monorail already constructed, but it will be a long-term solution.

I believe that in the next 1-2 years, we should be able to resolve the problem. By the time Line 4 becomes operational, I believe, we should be able to run the monorail at maximum capacity and peak frequency. After all, though it wasn’t designed to be so, the monorail is now an integral part of the metro masterplan, and is the one of the key lines connecting the various areas of South Mumbai like Parel and Mahalaxmi.

MMRDA constructs many flyovers and roads in the city. But the planning in this area appears to be more ‘reactive’ than ‘proactive’ – as in the case of metros. For example, flyovers such as Kalanagar and Chheda Nagar should have come up 3-4 years ago – but MMRDA has acted only now. Why do think there is this delay in roads and flyovers construction across the city?

So the problem here is multiplicity of authorities. Ideally, the municipal body should take care of the internal roads and flyovers, but when they don’t, we have to plan, design, and construct it. So that takes a bit of time and causes delays. But I agree that we need to be more proactive in our efforts to decongest roads.

Theoretically, all intra-city roads and flyovers come under the jurisdiction of the local municipal body in any city. So ideally these flyovers and roads should be constructed by them. But then, it is argued that infrastructure such as the Western Express Highway provides connectivity to other cities and Mumbai suburbs, so it falls in our jurisdiction.

A lot of flyovers on WEH and EEH have been built by MMRDA. The eastern freeway, SCLR, all these roads – we have built. We are building the Trans-Harbour Link. On the other hand, the municipal body is making the coastal road and MSRDC is building the Sea-Link.

Recently, we have taken charge of the entire WEH and EEH from PWD, and we will be maintaining it from here. In fact, we have also invited a consultant to make WEH completely signal free, by providing various flyovers and connecting roads at key junctions. SCLR is also a part of that effort. So things should happen on that more quickly now.

We are trying to do a lot of things here at MMRDA with a staff of only 800 employees. Building one of the largest metro networks of the country along with various roads and flyovers is a big ask. But we are trying it – for the benefit of the residents of the city.