Earlier, with most of the government departments working in silos, implementation of any large-scale infrastructure project was a time-consuming exercise. A case for example is the 3-km Bandra-Worli sea-link project, which took around 15 years (with multiple deadline extensions) to finally see the light of the day. Another case in point is the 17-km long Eastern Freeway project. Similarly, the Mumbai Metro-1 line (Versova-Ghatkopar), which was planned for 1997, finally got completed in 2014. These projects faced several delays on account of obtaining various permissions for construction in forest and salt pan areas, the reclamation of land, difficulties due to unmapped underground utilities in construction work and rehabilitation of Project Affected Persons (PAP).
However, things have changed drastically in Maharashtra lately. On the seventh floor of Maharashtra’s swanky decision-making structure—Mantralaya—is a “War Room” filled with brightest mind, monitoring the State’s project progress. The War Room, which is headed by the Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, consists of senior bureaucrats and a representative of civil society was launched in 2015. The War Room focuses exclusively on fast-tracking top projects for Mumbai and the State and remove all the bottlenecks on their way.
The Smart Cities Council India caught-up with the young and ever energetic Kaustubh Dhavse, Joint Secretary and OSD to Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Dhavse, with his young team members averaging age of around 22-25 years, works tirelessly and is full of praises about the War Room. He substantiates War Room’s achievement with examples.
For instance, he says, “A few years back, the SEEPZ-Cuffe Parade underground Metro project didn’t even move an inch forward, but now it has received all the necessary clearances.” “Our War Room played a huge role and chased files everywhere – Coast Guard office, revenue department, PMO – to clear the way for the project,” a proud Dhavse exclaimed.
Another example, he cited was of Coastal Road, which lost the hope due to lack of progress, but now has received environmental and forest clearance, and is all slated to roll out soon.
That said, the War Room tracks progress report of all the mega structures in the State that includes Navi Mumbai Airport, NAINA, coastal road, Maha Metro, irrigation projects, Samriddhi Corridor and Mumbai-Trans Harbour Link project, to name a few. When asked about, what has changed from 2015 in terms of War Room’s involvement till 2017, Dhavse mentioned about the "reliance of bureaucrats" in the system.
According to Dhavse, once a project enters War Room, it is bifurcated into smaller sections. For instance, the MTHL project was divided into – getting clearances from the Environment Ministry, getting land from various departments, arranging funds, etc. The team breaks every big project into smaller ones, works with various government departments for project clearances and speedier approvals. Senior officials vouch for their efficiency, and in just a two-hour War Room meeting, 20 projects are reviewed, with the team highlighting the pain points.