Sucheta Dalal :Mumbai: The Great Skywalk Rip-off
Sucheta Dalal

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Mumbai: The Great Skywalk Rip-off  

July 8, 2009


Last month when the deputy chairperson of Maharashtra Legislative Council Vasant Davkhare alleged large-scale corruption in the construction of skywalks, everyone was stunned. The government, as usual, assured an investigation into the charges.
Skywalks or the foot over bridge are an effort to give the pedestrian much needed space to walk as more and more footpaths were disappearing and there are very few subways available for him. Especially on the roads that lead to the suburban railway station, it would have given him much needed freedom from roadside hawkers and the incessant honking of bumper-to-bumper traffic in congested areas.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which has planned 50 skywalks, or foot over-bridges, is keen on adding more to the number. It has allocated Rs6 billion for the skywalk project and there are proposals to have shopping plazas on some of the walkways as well.
So far so good, but when you review the costs involved in the construction of any one skywalk and compare it with the cost of the new Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL), the real truth behind the rush to build more skywalks comes out in open.
Take for example, the 'delicate' Bandra skywalk which was built at a cost of Rs136.3 million. Its length is 1.3 km or 1,300 meter and width is 4 meter. While the BWSL, with a length of 5.5 km or 5,500 meter and width of 32 meters (8 lanes), was built with a cost of Rs16.5 billion.
When you equalise the costs of both the skywalk and sea link, the cost of skywalk turns out to be a mere 30% less than the sea link! Here are the calculations.
Length 5,500x Width 32=176,000 sq m
Project Cost 16,500,000,000/176,000=90,909 (per sq m cost)
Bandra Skywalk
Length 1,300x Width 4= 5,200 sq m
Project Cost 136,300,000/5,200=26,211 (per sq m cost)
So the cost of the Bandra skywalk is about one third than that of the per sq meter cost of the sea link. Now let’s check the cost of Kalyan Dombivali skywalk. MMRDA is constructing this 1.4 km skywalk at a cost of Rs839 million. The width is same for all skywalks i.e. 4 meters. So here are the calculations...
Length 1,400x Width 4= 5,600 sq m
Project Cost 839,000,000/5,600=149,821 (per sq m cost)
And here are the comparisons of the sea link and skywalks:
Bandra Worli Sea Link                Rs90,909 per sq m
Bandra sky walk                        Rs26,211 per sq m
Kalyan sky walk                        Rs149,821 per sq m
This means the Kalyan skywalk is more costly than that of BSWL!
“Yes, it is true, the Kalyan skywalk costs more than the Bandra-Worli sea link and that too, when the sea link has to bear the huge costs of cable stays sections and one hundred meter high pylons. Even residential buildings with better than standard finishes cost Rs16,500 per sq meter,” said Jagdeep Desai, architect and secretary of Forum for Improving Quality of Life in Mumbai Suburbs.
So, what exactly is happening? No doubt, we need more skywalks but at what cost? Skywalk costs are defended on the grounds that they will be more than covered by the advertising revenues. Does that justify paying ten times a realistic construction cost? And never mind the ugliness, does the city really benefit from such projects?
MMRDA had said it will cover the cost of skywalks by selling advertising space on these skywalks. But last month only, the winning bidder for its Bandra skywalk, Big Street backed out. Big Street, the Anil Ambani group company had agreed to pay Rs790 million for the Bandra (east) Skywalk for a 10-year period against the minimum bid price of Rs100 million.
According to media reports, Ratnakar Gaikwad, commissioner, MMRDA said, rather than taking money upfront, it will now take money in five equal installments in a 5 years time. The winning bidder, in lieu of the advertising space, will also have to maintain the skywalks and take care of security.
When some of the activists asked for more information on the skywalk projects, the answers or reply from the ‘de facto’ authority are shocking. It has asked the activists to pay Rs1,200 upfront and collect the information in person, that too when they had asked the same to be sent by post. The employees of MMRDA, obviously, are not revealing the contents of the information, so the activists have to go there personally and collect whatever information the authority wants to share under the right to information act. Yogesh Sapkale [email protected]

-- Sucheta Dalal