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Uddhav Thackeray may junk Devendra Fadnavis' bullet train, expressway, hyperloop projects

With the new Maharashtra government headed by Uddhav Thackeray pledging to prioritise farmers' issues and grassroot level development,  the fate of some of fancy and marquee infrastructure projects being implemented by the former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is likely to have an uncertain future.  Key focus areas of the new state government in their common minimum programme (CMP) are farmers' issues, unemployment, health, industry, social justice, women, education, urban development, tourism art and culture. Already, leaders of the new coalition government have indicated that populist measures such as loan waiver for farmers, meal at Rs 10 and unemployment income for youths are round the corner. Although some leaders in the new coalition have suggested that the government is unlikely to compromise on the infrastructure agenda, some of the projects mooted by the previous Fadnavis government may lose priority.

Bullet train

Prime among them is the Bullet Train project connecting Mumbai and Ahmadabad, the country's first ever bullet train project to be developed at a cost of Rs 1.08 lakh crore. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe had jointly laid foundation stone for the project on September 14, 2017. The Bullet Train project, expected to cut travel time between Mumbai and Ahmadabad to just three hours, is to be funded 81 per cent by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The remaining fund has to be from state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Fadnavis government's commitment for the project was about Rs 5,000 crore and after two years, the project is still in land acquisition stage. Around 150 kilometers has to be constructed in the state of Maharashtra. Sources say half the land required for the project has been acquired so far, but it is mostly in Gujarat. Some of the ruling Shiv Sena leaders have already expressed their opposition to the project, citing it would benefit only the rich and mainly the diamond traders from Gujarat. They say money for such projects should be routed for farmer loan waiver as the state has debt of nearly Rs 5 lakh crore.

Mumbai nagpur expressway

Mumbai Nagpur Super Communication Expressway, also known as 'Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg', a pet project of former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is another project that may be pushed to the backburner. This 701-kilometer long eight lane expressway connects Fadnavis' home turf Nagpur and Mumbai within eight hours. A total 24,255-acre land has to be acquired for the project across 10 districts and in many places, farmers were reluctant to give their land. The Rs 46,000-crore project, of which around Rs 26,000 crore is to construct the expressway, is being funded by a consortium of banks. The project was initially slated for commissioning by October this year, but was pushed to 2022 later. Sources said before state elections, only one-fourth of the road construction was complete. The project also envisages to develop marketing centres for farm produce, tourism centres and modern townships on both sides of the highway.

Mumbai-Pune hyperloop

One of the first of its kinds next generation mobility project in the world, the Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop is to link Pune with Mumbai in under 35 minutes, from the current over 3.5-hour road travel. Conceptually, the hyperloop is a magnetically-propelled capsule or pod with passengers or cargo and travels through a low-pressure tube at over 1,000 kilometres per hour. Virgin Hyperloop One, headed by Virgin group founder Richard Branson, was the first company to test the technology in May 2016. Hyperloops are also planned in Dubai. There are four-five such routes in the US and some other Indian states have also shown interest.   

Although it is still at an experimental stage - wherein the speed has not gone beyond 300-400 kilometres per hour and human beings are yet to travel in a Hyperloop - the Maharashtra government has decided to implement the fancy project at an expense of about Rs 70,000 crore, after Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA) did a feasibility assessment. The state cabinet gave the mandate to build the Hyperloop to a consortium of DP World FZE and Hyperloop Technologies as 'proponents of the original project'. It may take seven years for construction from the 'zero date'. Fadnavis himself had visited the Virgin Hyperloop's facility in the US for initial discussions and later, on July 31, the state cabinet gave final nod and deemed the project as a "public infrastructure" project. The project will "generate hundreds of thousands of new high-tech jobs, create over $36 billion in wider socio-economic benefits, and create new hyperloop component and manufacturing opportunities to export to India and the rest of the world," a July 31 press release says. In the pilot phase, the project is to begin in 11.8 kilometers in Pune city at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore.

Other big infra projects

Some of the long-pending big infra projects in the pipeline such as the Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA), the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL), Coastal Road, Versova-Bandra Sea Link (VBSL), Shivaji statue, Eastern Waterfront and Virar Alibaugh multi-modal industrial corridor were fast-tracked by the Fadnavis government over the past five years. Now it is to be seen whether the coalition Sena-NCP-Congress government will continue to give thrust to these projects for completion as per the current deadline.  With the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections to happen in two years, expectations are that the various metro projects being implemented in the city would continue to get the priority. Most of these projects have international funding arrangements.

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