Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The detailed plan was drafted and submitted by engineer PG Patankar, and the cover of his report was designed by iconic poet Arun Kolatkar.
Aarefa Johari ·

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for two Mumbai Metro projects, both of which ambitiously aim to be completed by 2019. Last year saw the official launch of Mumbai Metro 3 – an ambitious 33-km underground railway line that will connect Colaba in south Mumbai to SEEPZ in the north. The tendering process is underway, but he Maharashtra government doesn’t expect construction to be completed before 2020.

It needn't have taken the city so long to have these alternative transport corridors. Had the state government had accepted a proposal made way back in 1963, Mumbai could have had an underground Metro line at least 40 years ago.

This plan for an underground railway network, commissioned by the state in the early 1960s, was drafted by PG Patankar, an engineer and railway expert employed at the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport. Patankar envisioned five inter-connected underground Metro lines for the island city of Bombay, whose local trains and buses were already overburdened by a burgeoning population.

If his plan had been approved and taken forward, Mumbai could have been the first city in India to get an underground Metro: Kolkata’s lines were laid in 1984 and Delhi didn’t follow suit until 2002.

But soon after submission, Patankar’s detailed report on the plan was ignored and forgotten. Eventually, Mumbai didn’t get a Metro till 2014, when the 11-km Versova-Ghatkopar route was opened as an elevated corridor above roads and local train tracks.

Who was Patankar?

PG Patankar, born in 1925, started his career as an engineer with the Indian Railways in the 1940s. He later moved to Bombay Electric Supply and Transport Company, which runs the city's buses, where, in the 1960s, he was given the task of proposing a solution for Mumbai’s increasing traffic and transport congestion. Later, he was made the general manager of state transport in Maharashtra, and was briefly sent to Delhi to work on improving bus transport in the national capital.

On his return to Mumbai, he became the director of the Central Institute of Road Transport and his last job was at Tata Consultancy Services, where he headed the transport division. Patankar died in Pune in 2013, at the age of 88.

Patankar, whose underground railway proposal came a hundred years after the world’s first such rail line was opened in London, passionately wanted Mumbai’s narrow island city to benefit from a transport network that would not take up additional space on the surface.

His vision did not materialise during his lifetime, but his enthusiasm for the value of an underground transport system is still being carried forward by his cousin, 79-year-old Avinash Gupte.

A special design

Gupte has one of the few remaining copies of Patankar’s underground railway project plan preserved carefully in his Grant Road apartment. It is a large hardcover book whose pages are now yellowed and brittle, but the design of the book cover is special for Gupte.

“It was illustrated by my friend Arun Kolatkar, the poet,” said Gupte, a retired advertising graphic designer. Kolatkar is remembered as one of the defining Marathi and English poets of his age – particularly as the poet of Jejuri, a volume of poems about a pilgrimage in Maharashtra. But he was also a successful graphic designer in Mumbai’s advertising industry.

Patankar's book on an underground railway plan, designed by Arun Kolatkar.
Gupte and his friend Michael Pereira have now made Kolatkar’s symbolic design the logo for Mumbai Underground, a resource group they have founded to promote the new Metro 3 underground line planned from Colaba to SEEPZ. The group informally advocates for Metro 3 as an ideal solution to the city’s transport woes and a far better alternative to elevated Metro lines. “I have felt strongly about this ever since Patankar came up with his plan in 1963,” said Gupte.

Five unrealised routes

In the preface to his book, Patankar lists the many reasons for Mumbai to get an underground railway. By 1963, Bombay city (which had its northern limits at Mahim and Sion) was extremely congested: it had a population of 4.2 million and there were 93,400 vehicles on the roads – up from just 13,400 in 1955. (Today, Mumbai has more than 23.3 lakh vehicles.)

In this context, Patankar writes in the preface, spending on a “rapid transit” system under the surface of the city would be not only “unavoidable” but also justified. “Without efficient arteries for the mass transportation of people, all other plans will come to naught,” he wrote.

Patankar’s plan for five underground Metro lines – a network of 31.9 km – was based on his study of Metro systems in Milan and Berlin. He proposed one circular route through south Mumbai’s commercial Fort area, starting and ending at Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). Two other separate routes would connect VT to Byculla bridge, one route would head north from Byculla to Sion in the east, while a fifth route could connect Byculla to Mahim in the West.

To view a detailed image of Patankar's underground Metro map, click here.
“In those days, the suburbs beyond Mahim and Sion were not too developed, but if those first underground lines had been laid, it would have been easy to expand them later as the suburbs grew,” said Gupte.

In addition to the detailed map, Patankar’s plan included technical drawings of the dimensions of train coaches, signalling systems, ventilation and power supply. It outlined the methods in which buildings along the Metro route could be underpinned and strengthened at their foundations, so that they would survive the vibrations of an underground railway network.

The report also made references to the Indo-China war of 1962, promoting the underground Metro as a safe haven for citizens during war-like situations. “It must be stressed that an underground railway can hold much better than any other transport system against the enemy’s air power. Also it provides a good air-raid shelter,” Patankar wrote.

Costly, but worth it

Patankar estimated that laying the Metro in the 1960s would cost an estimated Rs 17 lakh per km. Today, the projected cost of the underground Metro 3 line is Rs 23,136 crore – around Rs 690 crore per km.

Nonetheless, Gupte believes the high costs are as justified today as they were 50 years ago. A strong underground railway network would not only ease the load off local trains but also reduce road traffic congestion. “This will increase the productivity of the city because people will spend less time travelling,” said Gupte. “Even some bureaucrats from Mumbai have told me that when they visit Delhi, they prefer using the Metro instead of a car.”

For now, the planned Metro 3 line is not likely to have a smooth run. The project has faced stiff opposition from environmentalists because of a railway car shed planned in the forested area of Aarey Colony. A panel of experts has proposed moving the car shed to Kanjurmarg, and Gupte is eager to see the issue resolved. “If Mumbai wants to be a financial capital, citizens cannot take hours to commute,” he said.


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