Flashback to 1970s: Mumbai was to have an underground metro

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By Ninad Siddhaye  www.daily.bhaskar.com

Mumbai: Whenever he reads reports about the proposed Colaba-Bandra metro, plans for which are stuck for want of funds, BN Desai’s mind goes back to the 1970s, when he and a team of nearly 40 officers of the Indian Railways were working on a project to build an underground metro along the same route up to the Santa Cruz airport.

Desai, who worked with the railways for over 30 years, says they were close to performing a bhoomipujan for the project, but for some reason it did not happen.

Today, the cost of the underground metro between Colaba and Bandra is estimated to be a whopping Rs12,000 crore. But the Bombay Metropolitan Transport Project (Bombay MTP), planned by Desai and his team, would have cost just Rs375 crore.

“We had everything in place, from the techno-economic feasibility study to the detailed project report (DPR).

We worked on the project from 1972 up to 1975. The project was to be carried out by the railways,” said Desai who is on the threshold of turning 80.

According to the DPR — a set of 40-odd pages typed in the old format — the railways planned to run 46 trains with eight coaches each between Colaba and Santa Cruz. Interestingly, the line was to start at Colaba and cover both the central and western areas of the island city. From Colaba, the metro was to head towards Backbay, then move on to Mantralaya, Churchgate, and Azad Maidan. From there, it would have moved to Bombay VT (or CST, as it is called now), Crawford Market, Mumbadevi, Bhendi Bazaar, Nagpada, Byculla and then to Mahalaxmi.

“This was the first phase. The second phase would have been from Mahalaxmi to Kurla, and the last one was connecting the underground metro to the domestic airport,” Desai told DNA.

Why was such an ambitious project shelved? “Only one person can answer the question – former prime minister, the late Indira Gandhi. The then railway minister Mohammad Shafiq Qureshi as well as the railway board had cleared all files related to the project after the plan was submitted in November 1972.

Subsequently, the project was discussed at length in April 1973 with members of the planning commission.

There were some minor issues such as foreign funding (of Rs64 crore). We also did some site surveys for the bhoomipujan. However, all went wrong somehow. We were dispersed and transferred to various locations,” recalled Desai, the disappointment still showing on his face.

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