The emergence of peninsular Mumbai — the finance and commerce capital of India — as the most afflicted hotspot of the Covid-19 pandemic is the outcome of decades of civic planning neglect and unchecked avarice. Mumbai’s condition is indeed precarious. Of the total number of 81,970 reported Covid-19 positive cases countrywide, it has reported 16,579, and of the total reported number (2,649) of fatalities nationwide, Mumbai has reported 621 (May 15).
However the megpolis’ grim condition was a prophecy foretold. The obvious solution to decongest the maximum city (20 million) was to build a road and rail bridge (s) to the India mainland, a mere 8 miles (14 km) as the crow flies. This proposal which envisaged a multi-purpose bridge from Sewree in the Bombay dockland area to make landfall in New Bombay (aka Navi Mumbai region) on the mainland was first mooted in the 1970s when CIDCO (City Development Corporation), a public-private civic planning organisation, was promoted to examine the proposal. However Cidco’s brief to connect Mumbai’s dockland area with the Indian mainland was opposed ab initio by the get-rich-quick interests of the city’s politician-builder nexus. Instead Cidco — now a Maharashtra state government company — was commissioned to connect the northeastern suburbs of the city with Thane in the north of the mainland through a modest 1.8 km expressway across a narrow creek.
Meanwhile the number of officially acknowledged slum habitations have also multiplied and currently over 40 percent of the city’s population — even some corporate executives — live in inhuman conditions, acutely experiencing appalling air, water and sanitary pollution even as Dharavi (pop. 1 million plus) — as television news anchors routinely intone with a hint of pride — has grown into Asia’s largest slum habitation, and latterly a Covid-19 hotspot.
The silver lining to the dark Covid-19 cloud looming over Mumbai is that work on building the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link began on January 20 when the first girder was installed. But before that four attempts of fullscale bids to build the bridge beginning in 2004, were sabotaged by the realtor-politician lobby which fears a crash in Mumbai’s sky-high property prices.
Originally scheduled for completion in 2019, and being constructed by Larsen & Toubro, IHI (Japan), Daewoo Corp (Korea) and Tata Projects, the new 21.8 km six-lane steel motor way toll bridge is scheduled for completion in 2022. Unfortunately, although it will make Mumbai a better place in the future, it’s come too late to save the maximum city from the ravages of Covid-19.