To signal its commitment to the upgrade of infrastructure in Maharashtra, the Devendra Fadnavis government had set up a ‘war room’ to push projects, months after it came to power in 2014-end. Comprised of 12 people based at the Chief Minister’s office, this unit has since taken up about 30 projects across the state. Set up with the assistance of global consultancy firm McKinsey and Mumbai First, a think tank, the ‘war room’ first addressed the core issue facing Mumbai, the state capital: public transport. Projects that were doable and were on the drawing board or stuck, were revived. The rest were scrapped. At a pan-Maharashtra level, the group’s efforts have seen 170 km of metro lines being tendered over the last two years, with work having commenced on three metro lines — in comparison, it took about a decade for the existing metro line in Mumbai (11.4 km) to come up. Mumbai’s eight-lane coastal road, metro lines in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur, the Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway, MTHL, the Digital Maharashtra initiative and a slew of irrigation projects are the top projects being pushed through by the unit. The Nagpur-Mumbai expressway, which is also being called the prosperity corridor, is expected to create 15 lakh direct and indirect jobs and drive growth in the region.
The state now plans to launch a special infrastructure fund to generate money for projects. Sudhir Mungantiwar, Finance Minister of Maharashtra, told FE, “Given the constraints in raising huge amounts from available sources, there is a need to look at alternative methods.” The proposed fund would be managed by a special purpose vehicle called Mahainfra. “The SPV would act as a single window for aggregating land held by various departments,” he says. By securitising the plots, the government would be able to raise money. The focus at present is on Mumbai though, with the city getting a makeover with showcase projects such as the 22-km-long Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), connecting the mainland to Navi Mumbai, and a 30-km long coastal road. Kaustubh Dhavse, officer on special duty to the Chief Minister, who also heads the ‘war room’, says, “The idea is to incorporate best practices from around the world while retaining the rich cultural fabric and heritage of Mumbai.”
Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman, Feedback Infra, says Maharashtra has taken the lead with respect to raising finance from multilateral agencies for infra projects. On some projects attracting criticism over viability, he says, “they make many other things viable, including economic development. I don’t think we should be very concerned about viability.” For businessmen like Areef Patel, vice- chairman, Patel Integrated Logistics, the big road projects are a welcome relief. Sounding upbeat about the Nagpur-Mumbai expressway, he says, “Today, Mumbai to Nagpur takes about 45 hours or more. I expect this to improve by about five-eight hours”.