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Mumbai, Feb. 28

PROPONENTS of Mumbai makeover plans, who have been debating whether the city should fashion itself after Shanghai or Hong Kong, finally have reason to smile. The Union Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, was not exactly the toast of the town after his recent remarks on the State being ineligible for special World Bank loans.

However, the Finance Minister's reference to the Rs 5,500-crore National Urban Renewal Mission (NURM) with a Rs 1,650-crore grant component, has warmed the hearts of Mumbaikars, especially since three of the four of the projects he mentioned under the fund were Mumbai-specific. True, it will eventually cover the seven mega-cities, but as of now Mumbai has scored with three out of four projects.

The projects mentioned included the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link connecting Sewri and Nhava, the Mumbai Metro Rail Project, the Western Expressway Sea Link (the Bandra-Worli link and the Worli-Nariman Point link), other than the Bangalore Metro Rail Project. There was also the grand plan of making Mumbai a financial nerve centre as it fell midway between London and Tokyo.

With National Stock Exchange being ranked third and Bombay Stock Exchange fifth in the world by the number of trades per year, it was time to begin work on making Mumbai a regional hub for finance, Mr Chidambaram said. The agenda now is to appoint a high-powered expert committee in consultation with RBI to advise the Government on realising this target.

Mr Ashwini Kakkar, President, Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who is also the CEO and MD, Thomas Cook, said, ``We welcome the aid to Mumbai city under the National Urban Renewal Mission. As far as making Mumbai city the financial hub concerned, it has been our long-standing recommendation, which will now be fulfilled.''

However, there are many who believe that infrastructure projects envisaging such huge investments should be tailor made to suit the requirement of the city. According to them, more viable would be a Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) as it can carry 25,000, persons per hour. ``MRTS should cost somewhere in the range of Rs 2,400 crore for 300 km at Rs 6-8 crore per km, as against a metro project that is estimated at Rs 19,525 crore for 146.5 km of underground and elevated rails. On the other hand, there is the Skybus of Konkan Railway estimated to cost Rs 7,500 crore for 150 km,'' says Mr Sudhir Badami, urban transport analyst.

Meanwhile, Mr Y.P. Trivedi, Treasure and National Convenor, Economic Affairs Cell of Nationalist Congress Party, said Mumbai should be particularly thankful to the Finance Minster for conceptualising the city as a financial hub, a role it was suited to don. And Mr Arun Mokashi, Chairman, Transport Committee, `Bombay First' said the funds earmarked under NURM was insufficient. What was needed was a dedicated transport fund for Mumbai city, he said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 1, 2005)
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