Lately, it seems like if you have to create a strong enough opposition against a public project, all you have to do is sprinkle a few snippets of information about how the project damages the environment and voila, you have a perfect recipe for a stalled Infrastructure Project.
Cutting a tree has gained such an emotional repulse that just the thought of it sends ripples down the power corridor, threatening to unseat governments. Plus, the cutting of a tree is made out to be such a villainous act that anyone expressing the idea of cutting a tree has become the villain of the century. While protecting trees and forests is a noble thing to do, this one-sided argument while ignoring other aspects of the environment are more dangerous to the environment and to the overall approach of sustainable development.
In the world’s effort to combat climate change, efficient public transport systems that reduce air pollution is a much more valuable environmental service than trees. In fact, trees can be transplanted, compensated and more trees can be planted to combat the negative impacts of forest conversion. Most European countries have showcased that this can be done after the necessary infrastructure is established for the people.
What has triggered my article today is a series of Tweets published by Mumbai Metro, and arguments by Ashwini Bhide, a dynamic woman of the IAS cadre, who leads the Mumbai Metro team very smartly and ably.
Public infrastructure projects have a life cycle that’s long and complex. It’s exceptionally long in India mainly because of the democratic inefficiencies, amongst other things. So, we in India, anyways, sit on a public project far too long. Its either the approvals or the budgets, but we are already late when it comes to building public infrastructure projects. So more often than not, you will have experienced that a new project rarely brings with it the newness – it gets filled up by people the moment it’s built. The reason is that we end up building a project that was planned for 20 years ago but gets executed today when the reality has already exceeded all the projections.
In the past years, what differentiates the BJP government from Congress regimes before is that they have picked up speed when it comes to approving and executing public infrastructure projects. Whether it’s PM Narendra Modi in the Centre or CM Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, the focus is on ensuring long-pending projects are given timely approvals, hurdles are removed and projects get off the ground. Even in doing so, most projects are already late, but at least the governments are fast-tracking the process to ensure that whatever benefits these projects have envisaged for the public will come as fast as possible, hopefully within a tangible span of 3-5 years.
So when most of these public infrastructure projects were actually languishing in the files on Babu’s desks, they caught no attention. The plans were there, the designs were the same. So technically, any objections to the design, alignment, location of sheds could have come earlier when the project life cycle could have accepted changes. This is similar to our vacation plans. So many destinations are feasible when we are planning a vacation, but very few modifications can be made once we take the first flight out.
Today, Metro projects are just like this. Decisions have happened long ago. People have taken objections, governments and experts have worked on alternatives, presented them in Courts, wherever applicable, made changes wherever possible. Finally, the day has dawned where the project now demands execution and completion. Most public infrastructure life cycles will be similar to the Metro.
As citizens, it’s important to understand this life cycle. Any interference and demands to change the core approach or core design or core alignment of a public infrastructure project is akin to starting a project anew. This will not only put the project on a freeze, but the government and all of us stand to lose huge public money and public benefits of that project, probably forever. Inordinate delays are worse on the environment than the actual impacts of the project on the environment. The actual impacts will see mitigation and management during the course of project implementation. While, when a project is delayed everyone loses interest in the project, while environmental impacts continue to occur due to negligence and apathy. At the same time, the public loses out on the benefits of the project completely, although we have spent money on it.
Citizens have to mature themselves and understand that opposition to public infrastructure projects achieves only one objective – that of delaying project benefits while continuing environmental degradation of environmental resources somewhere else. In case of public transport projects, while trying to save trees, we may end up polluting the air due to private vehicular traffic on the city’s roads.
Below are some salient points from Mumbai Metro which shows the organisation’s passion and commitment to meet project deadlines, provide a better and efficient mobility system to Mumbai, arrest air pollution that is currently caused by private vehicles on the roads. We should be celebrating the Mumbai Metro’s and Ashwini Bhide’s commitment to the city and its infrastructure.
Mumbai Metro is a Green Mobility Project. It will offer a solution to get private vehicles off the roads, reduce congestion, reduce fossil fuels consumption and improve air quality in the city.
Alternative sites for the Metro shed were considered, like Backbay, Dharavi, MPT, Sariput Nagar etc, but these sites we neither at the end of alignment and they have many other technical and environmental issues.
Kanjurmarg land is not available, nor is it feasible.
If the Metro shed doesn’t happen on time, the entire project will be stalled, delayed. Currently invested Rs 11,000 cr will go waste.
Concretisation of land will not lead to flooding if the runoffs are dealt with properly and diverted to the storm waste system, either for recharge or as surface discharge.
Let’s compensate for the trees that need to be cut. As active citizens, help Mumbai Metro plant more trees.
Let not our single-minded approach to environmental conservation become the Death of Important Public Infrastructure projects in India.