Also called the Prosperity Corridor, at a length of 700 km, construction of the Nagpur-Mumbai expressway is fraught with challenges. Radheshyam Mopalwar, VC & MD, MSRDC, clarifies on land acquisition issues and reveals all about the first-of-its-kind super communication expressway in the country in a conversation with FE’s Rouhan Sharma. Excerpts:
What are the biggest challenges and how are you managing it?
The biggest challenge is land. It is a greenfield alignment like the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Expressways across the world are greenfield alignments because they are access-controlled. On those roads, you don’t allow motorcycles or slow vehicles. We are now constructing an expressway that is seven and a half times longer than the Mumbai-Pune expressway at one go. The requirement is around 10,000 hectares of land, involving about 20,000 families. We have now begun the process of land acquisition. We have started the registration of sale deeds after a process of negotiation and consent. However, apart from getting consent, the bigger problem now is the registration of 20,000 sale deeds in three months time. For instance, in Thane district, 2,000 documents need to be registered. But we need 8,000 signatures, because there are relatives and other family members who are joint holders of a property. In some cases, the land may also have been mortgaged. It is a big administrative challenge.
What about the resistance you have been facing from those who don’t want to give their land?
Across the 10 districts, there are 392 villages. We certainly found some resistance in Shahapur but that has been resolved now. Beyond Thane district, there is resistance in Nashik district. Especially in one village, there is complete opposition. We are engaging with them to solve the problem. In Aurangabad, which has the longest stretch covering 62 villages, again, there is one village where there is a problem. So, the way out is to keep talking, while we finish the rest of the work. Even in an examination, we finish the easy questions first and then tackle what is more difficult later on.
Is there any other compensation apart from the money you are paying for acquiring land?
That’s what we offered initially by way of land pooling but there was no support for the model. We were even offering to re-skill the older generation and skill the younger generation so as to open up employment opportunities. We were even ready to underwrite the entire expenses for competitive exams in medicine and engineering. But the media, activists and NGOs all ridiculed it. And this was an instrument of the state, judicially enforceable, and not just a letter of assurance by MSRDC. Even so, today, we are in discussions with the Skill Development Council (SDC) of India. We have a request for proposal (RFP) ready and even if people did not become partners via the land pooling model, we have already decided that we will start skill development centres in the 24 locations where we are planning interchanges.
Recently, the Malaysian government has expressed interest in the project? At this halfway stage, how can you accommodate them?
They have been in discussions with us for the last 18 months. We clarified to them there will be no back-end contracting. Now that our project reports are ready, the Malaysian government sent their security general earlier this month to talk with us and called on our chief minister. Now, after much discussion, they are showing interest in investing in the equity portion of the project, not in the contract. It could be investment from their sovereign funds, provident funds or pension funds. Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Prolintas are both interested. The management of Khazanah had visited us just last month.
What is your vision to develop these nodes?
There is great potential to unleash development. Now, we are also in discussions with GAIL and MNGL and there will be a CNG and PNG pipeline. Other utilities are going to be there anyway. Our energy minister is also keen to have a 220 KV transmission line. With all this, 24 districts across the state will get dedicated supply in all their towns. There is going to be a host of opportunities, including township development. Motels, hotels, fuel stations, etc, are a given thing which will generate so much of employment but we are actually positioning this as a logistics corridor. Naturally, cold storage and warehousing facilities will get a fillip and we are already getting proposals for these. Education and health will also get a boost. We already have proposals from three-four international schools who want to set up campuses as well as Symbiosis, which is keen. The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) is also looking at setting up manufacturing hubs along this corridor wherever possible. We are also going to have a helipad. Our vision plan envisages about 25,000 employment opportunities per node. So, total employment generated will be about 500,000. The Maharashtra government provides employment to about 20 lakh people. This road itself will create that many jobs in five-ten years.