Put simply, this is what the grand Western Coastal Road plan that the Maharashtra government is pushing ahead with means - Rs 12,000 crore and more to be spent for less than seven per cent of the population. The enormous cost to benefit a few is not the only reason we, as Mumbai's 93 per cent, need to wake up and understand the consequences of this foolhardy plan. It is a plan that runs counter to received wisdom from around the world about what makes cities liveable for all citizens.
The supreme irony of the government's grand project is that the Dutch government has offered to help. In Holland, cars are discouraged; people walk, cycle, use buses and trains. For a country that has learned to live with the sea, a road along its coastline for cars would be inconceivable. Yet, with investment opportunities drying up in Europe, the Dutch have found a reason to encourage this foolishness on other shores.
Forget the Dutch, for a moment. What about us Mumbaikars? Our litany of complaints about the way this city is managed never ends. Yet, we seem to wake up to disasters only when it is too late.
The spirited opposition to the municipal corporation's Mumbai Development Plan 2034 earlier this year ultimately resulted in it being abandoned (although one is not confident that a new version will really be better). The process of information, consultation, and participation by the people of Mumbai proved that it is possible to reverse and even stop the government's plans if enough people decide to intervene. No such process has taken place so far on the coastal road.
Initially, the government gave hardly a month for objections. Many questions remain about the process by which the plan was finalised. For instance, how was the Environmental Impact Assessment done? And how did the Ministry of Environment and Forests give environmental clearance with such alacrity despite the adverse impact the road will have on mangroves and the tidal patterns?
The deadline for objections has been extended to August 27. But even today people living along the coast where the road will be built are not aware that this project is imminent.
If the plan goes through, what will certainly happen is that Mumbai's uniqueness, its undulating coastline, will be destroyed by an eight-lane highway running alongside it, or under it in some instances. The ramps for entry and exit from the tunnels will destroy the rocks that emerge on many parts of this coastline during low tide.
Furthermore, the planners of the project seem to be unaware that Mumbai has changed drastically in the last decade. Hence, inexplicably, the road begins in Nariman Point, an area that is getting depopulated as business has moved north for more than a decade now. It ends in Kandivali even though areas beyond that are crying for better connectivity.
If the government has Rs 12,000 crore to spare, why, we should ask, does it not invest it in public transport - enhancing and improving what exists, and adding to it? Why not put every effort to speed up the metro rail, improve existing bus systems and the commuter trains that are stressed to almost breaking point?
You don't need to be a planning wizard to realise that cities improve if you invest in whatever benefits the majority of people. Choosing public transport over private cars is a no brainer. But somehow, this kind of common sense has escaped our government. Our only option then, as citizens, is to assert our right to question and object to a road that is going to lead nowhere.