Mumbai: The city will be getting a brand new skywalk at Grant Road. The structure, touted by the MSRDC as ‘unique in the country,’ is all set to represent the latest innovations in architecture, with a 510 metre long walkway supported by stress rods suspended from a central tower, replete with four escalators and fancy LED lights.
However, this state-of-the-art skywalk, which officials insist will become ‘iconic,’ comes at a cost, and a staggering one at that. At Rs 50.48 crore, this walkway is the most expensive in the city. Moreover, as one deadline follows another and the project steps into its fourth year, residents who are tired of the incessant construction work, and road experts who are wary of yet another useless skywalk, have started asking if Rs 50 crore of the taxpayers’ money in an inflation-hit economy is a price worth paying.
Work on this skywalk, which will connect the lengths and breadths of Nana Chowk, was flagged off in December 2008, and was scheduled for completion by 2009. Three years since, work is still in progress. The entire structure is 510 metres in length and 4 metres wide. Of this, work on 248 metres of the length has been covered. The central tower is being constructed at the Nana Chowk junction, and will be connected to 16 stress bars, from which the circular part of the walkway will be suspended. The delay, of course, has been accompanied by a rise in the project cost by almost 30 per cent, escalating from the original price tag of Rs 38.96 crore to the present estimation of Rs 50.48 crore.
However, experts and the masses alike have slammed the skywalk as a colossal waste of taxpayers' money.
The staggering Rs 50.48 crore budget will include provisions for beautification of the skywalk at a cost of Rs 10.8 crore. LED lights that will change colour and illuminate the surroundings are worth Rs 3.8 crore, and stress bars worth Rs 7-8 crore will be specially imported from the United Kingdom. Asked who would bear the cost of the charges for electricity guzzled by the LED lights, officials remained tight-lipped, maintaining that they were merely constructing the iconic structure for the MSRDC.
Transport expert Jitendra Gupta questioned the need to spend public money worth over Rs 10 crore on mere beautification of a skywalk: "It is a well-known fact that the skywalk idea has flopped in the city. Moreover, if they wanted to construct a skywalk on Grant Road, they should have just made one, instead of wasting public money in the name of beautification." He added, "The same money could have been used for more useful purposes — for instance, the installation of CCTV cameras across the city. Work on the Mithi river is also pending due to a financial crunch. Nana Chowk is not a tourist destination like the CST or the Gateway of India, where such expenses on beautification would still have made some sense."
Sudhir Badami, structural engineer and transport expert, said, "I would like to see beautification in terms of open public spaces rather than massive waste on structures which block the open expanse of Nana Chowk. Nana Chowk has considerable pedestrian and vehicular traffic and so you need some sort of facility for the pedestrians. The skywalk has been conceived to offer one such alternative. However, illuminating it with LEDs will cause pollution."
MiD DAY's search for answers to these probing questions led it to many officials involved in the project, who provided various justifications. Atul Bhobe, managing director of SN Bhobe and Associates, the project management consultants for the Grant Road skywalk, said, "The concept of the iconic circular path covering the entire Nana Chowk junction was conceived when the plan for the project was being chalked out. We realised that the junction was connecting seven roads, and it was not feasible to place columns at intervals of 20 metres. Besides, the entire stretch would have been rendered an eyesore. We also had to facilitate the smooth flow of lower level traffic on the road, and hence we decided upon the stress bars, which will support the entire structure. The LED lamps will be used to beautify the same."
Asked about the stupendous cost entailed in the construction, Bhobe said, "We showed our design plan to the MSRDC and they approved the same. The skywalk will be one of its kind in the country and probably the entire world." Speaking of the rise in the project's cost from Rs 38.96 crore to Rs 50.46 crore, he said, "It is true that the project got delayed for various reasons, including diversion of the underground utility services. Moreover, inflation has gone up from 9 per cent to 12 per cent. This skywalk will have 10 staircases and 4 escalators — all these factors definitely had an impact on the cost of the project."
Subhash Nage, chief engineer of the MSRDC, said, "The intention of installing LED lights was to the add to the aesthetics of the structure during night hours. The entire design and conception is as per the tender, which has been accepted and approved by senior MSRDC officials. Once ready, we are sure that this will become a hot spot for not only Mumbaikars but also for tourists."
Nage added, "We always praise well-designed and illuminated skywalks and bridges when we visit places like Singapore and Shanghai, but when the MSRDC tries to do something similar here, citizens and the media start criticising us. We received similar reactions when the Bandra-Worli Sea Link was being constructed, but today, the same place is an iconic structure in the city."
"The MSRDC has caused nothing but problems to the residents of Nana Chowk and Girgaum. Firstly, the construction work has been going on for years, right in the middle of the road, giving rise to serious traffic issues for over 3-4 years. Also, the idea of making the bridge attractive using LED lights is ridiculous – people travelling in locals are in hurry to get back to their homes, they are not children who will be hypnotised by the flashing lights into using the skywalk. And the revision of the budget is nothing but a modus operandi used by corrupt officials and contractors to make more money," says Jeetendra Ghadge (29), resident of Opera House.
"In January 2010, construction for the skywalk caused a huge water pipe to burst at Nana Chowk, causing waterlogging up to a height of 2 feet. This project has caused a lot of inconvenience to us. I heard they are using LED lights and this is sheer waste of public money," said Tanaji Malusare (48), resident of Girgaum.
"The roads are in poor condition and we have other civic issues plaguing us. The project has already been delayed by over three years, and instead of completing the construction work and sorting out other civic issues, the authorities are wasting public money on LED lights," Nitesh Vakhare (24), another resident of Girgaum said.
"Spending a few extra crores to illuminate a skywalk with LED lights is a foolish idea, as it does not add to the comfort of pedestrians using the skywalks. Also, the work has been delayed for over two years, causing a lot of inconvenience to residents. The funds could have been used for some other urgent work that is pending due to lack of finances," Sujit Jha (23), a resident of Nana Chowk, said.