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How Ajmal Kasab delayed the Mumbai Monorail

Like many of Bombay’s infrastructure projects, the Mumbai Monorail has been long delayed. According to initial targets, the first phase of the project, connecting Wadala to Chembur, was to be complete by February 2011. Phase two, connecting Wadala to Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk, was to be ready by August 2011. As projections now stand, the first phase will be opened by August this year, and the second phase between August and December the following year.

Authorities claim that a bevy of issues waylaid their initial plans. Many of these have an expected ring to it—the large numbers of individuals who had to be relocated, the many religious structures that had to be demolished and the various governmental permissions that were required. Two impediments, however, turned out to be quite unexpected. One concerned a jailhouse, and the other, what lay beneath Bombay roads.

A part of the monorail’s second phase involves an elevated stretch that runs adjacent to Arthur Road Jail. The jail authorities objected to this, claiming it would be unsafe. It did not help that Ajmal Kasab was then being housed at the jail. “Our contention was that there are so many tall buildings in the vicinity that look into the jail. But the authorities were unwilling to budge,” says Ashwini Bhide, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s additional metropolitan commissioner. To bring them around, MMRDA authorities offered to heighten the wall of the jail’s building and put up barriers on that particular monorail stretch so no traveller could peep into the jail. This too wasn’t agreed upon. The situation came to such an impasse that the matter eventually reached the state’s home ministry, before final permission was granted.

A much bigger problem, however, lay underground. “We would convince and relocate locals, manage to get all necessary permissions and dig in to build the foundation only to find a number of pipes and cables,” says Bhide. According to her, utility connections are usually maintained at a depth of about three metres.

But often, cables and pipes would be found deeper than that. Some were reportedly laid during the days of the British Raj. And over the years, as roads were laid over again and again, these cables and pipes went deeper.

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