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Mumbai: taking a regional view

Mumbai: taking a regional view (An interview with Rahul Asthana) 

At first glance, the Mumbai Metropolitan Area seems to be facing many of the same infrastructure challenges as other large cities in rapidly-developing countries: massive urbanization, crumbling infrastructure and crippling road congestion. But with one of the world's highest population densities and surrounded by water on three sides, Mumbai is also dealing with some very unique challenges of its own. Not least among these is the spread of urban slums that - by some measures - now cover almost 60 percent of the city.

Creating coordination

Recognizing the need for a coordinated regional approach to development, the state government created the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) in 1975. The organization takes a lead role in preparing infrastructure development plans; formulating policies and programs; implementing projects and helping to direct investments in the region.


"Fortunately, the MMRDA is one of the few government agencies that is cash rich," noted Rahul Asthana, Metropolitan Commissioner at the MMRDA. "The agency owns large tracts of very valuable land that are leased out and the resulting revenues are then used to finance infrastructure projects.

Connecting a region

The MMRDA's main focus today is improving connectivity across the city through mass transit investments and efficiencies. The agency has plotted out a comprehensive transit plan that calls for the investment of more than USD50 billion. Almost half of that amount is earmarked for the development of a new metro system consisting of nine interconnected lines. The first line (Metro One) is due for completion next year and work will start on the second line (Metro Two) later this year.


The MMRDA has also taken the lead in experimenting in alternate ways of reducing congestion. The agency will soon commission the world's second longest mono-rail (and the first for India) and has already built dozens of 'sky walks' that aim to reduce pedestrian traffic on city streets. "In India, jaywalking is an accepted practice on most city streets, which is one of the issues we are trying to solve with the sky walks," adds Mr. Asthana. "But it is also a challenge because unless we severely clamp down on jaywalking, user uptake will continue to be low."


But in other areas, the MMRDA has seen unmitigated success, particularly in coaxing greater efficiency out of their existing network. Funded by the World Bank, the MMRDA undertook the Mumbai Urban Transport Project that saw capacity of the suburban rail system - the lifeline of Mumbai - increase by almost 35 percent. The project also increased transit interconnectivity through an expansion of the bus services and routes.

Maximizing investments to enhance living standards

To maintain a high level of funding, the MMRDA often engages private enterprises in Public Private Partnership (PPP) models. "In order to maximize our funds, we often take a PPP route that focuses our funding on covering the viability gap, rather than carrying the entire project cost ourselves," noted Mr. Asthana.


As for the slums, Mr. Asthana notes that they pose a significant challenge to urban development since slum-dwellers must be relocated before work can get underway. In response, the MMRDA has entered into agreements with developers who build low-cost tenements on private land in return for valuable development rights in the city centre.


"In this way we are able to provide a higher standard of living for low-income families and gain access to the land without adding extra cost to the government," added Mr. Asthana. "It is a win-win all around."

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