Bridging the gap

Written by Mona Mehta | Mumbai | Updated: Jul 4 2009, 04:26am hrs
Ajit Gulabchand has been among the busiest men in Mumbai this week, brushing shoulders with dignitaries and incessantly answering queries from the media, his silver hair aflutter in the winds over the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Nothing could have been more gratifying for the chairman and managing director of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) than to see the completion and the public adoration for the Rs 1,640-crore engineering marvel as it was dedicated to the nation on June 30.

For Mumbai, which has been reeling under traffic woes, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link project couldnt have materialised at a better time. Completed after a nine-year wait, the sea link is a forerunner to a few others planned in the city, which, over a period, promise to ease its traffic burden. At the moment, the eight-lane, cable-stayed bridge promises a hassle-free ride between Bandra to Worli in seven minutes flat, down from the current 45 minutes to an hour.

For HCC, which has constructed more than 25% of Indias hydropower and over 50% of Indias nuclear power generation capacities, Bandra-Worli Sea Link was another landmark infrastructure project it has seen through. The HCC Group comprises HCC Ltd (engineering and construction), HCC Infrastructure, HCC Real Estate and Lavasa Corporation. HCCs turnover grew at an impressive CAGR of 30.8% in FY 2007-08.

Gulabchand is also the moving force behind free Indias largest Hill City, Lavasa, near Pune. Lavasa is spread across a picturesque landscape of 12,500 acres, set amid seven hills and 60 km of lakefront.

It was in the year 2000 that the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) awarded HCC the contract to build the Bandra-Worli sea link. Thanks to the many design changes at the behest of the Worli fishing communities, the actual project implementation started in January 2005.

When the Bandra-Worli sea link contract was given to HCC, the investment was estimated at Rs 400 crore, which is inclusive of the cost of the various packages at Rs 1,340 crore. This total cost of packages has increased to Rs 1,640 crore and involves loan servicing costs and design changes. The government has agreed to pay Rs 157 crore compensation to the MSDRC as it had to take loans from financial institutions and the interest amounts added to Rs 1,640 crore. Commuters will pay a one-way toll of Rs 50 to the MSRDC, not such a big price to save precious time.

Experts feels that the overall design of this project has not factored the requirement of smooth traffic transition at the points where it will matter the most. At Bandra, the sea link ends in a 90-degree cut that will undoubtedly result in considerable traffic bottlenecks in an already overstrained spot. While those traveling from the Western Express Highway stand at an advantage, those on the SV Road side will continue to have issues.

The question that is on many minds is whether the Bandra-Worli sea link will be able to handle even 3,000 cars during peak hours. Four-wheelers plying through the link took about 30 to 35 minutes to cross it, instead of the promised seven in the first two days. But Gulabchand, is ever optimistic. It will be a landmark for Mumbai after the Gateway of India, he beams.