In a rare occurrence, Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday ‘attacked’ the Indian Navy for creating obstacles in ‘development projects’ in city, including their opposition to the plan for a floating jetty at Nariman Point in south Mumbai.
Recently, the Bombay High Court had declined permission to a private operator for building a jetty to launch seaplane services and a floatel since it did not get the green signal from the Navy’s Western Naval Command, ostensibly for security reasons.
He charged the Navy of making it a habit to stall development projects and asked how was the sea fighting force concerned with Malabar Hill area, which is a residential zone with Raj Bhavan and the Chief Minister’s official residences.
“Actually, what does the Navy have to do with Malabar Hill (in south Mumbai). They should be guarding the borders of the country,” Mr Gadkari remarked at a function where he laid the foundation stone for an international cruise terminal along with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday.
The Shipping Minister also accused the Navy of creating roadblocks in development projects and sought to know why everyone in the Navy wants to live in south Mumbai?
“They have come to me seeking a plot of land, I will not give them even an inch, please don’t come again,” Mr Gadkari declared, in the presence of top naval, maritime and government officials, including Western Naval Command chief Vice-Admiral Girish Luthra.
He said everybody wants to build quarters in south Mumbai’s prime land and opined that only a few important, senior officials should live there.“We are the government. The Navy and the Defence Ministry are not the government,” thundered Mr Gadkari, appearing to directly lock horns with his cabinet colleague, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“We respect you, but you should go to the Pakistan borders. Land on the eastern seafront is being developed by the state government and Mumbai Port Trust, which will be for the benefit of local citizens,” Mr Gadkari added.
The Shipping Minister urged the Navy to resolve the issues and pointed out that he chairs a committee of delayed infrastructure projects, which would be cleared as soon as they are put up on the agenda.
Incidentally, south Mumbai’s Colaba houses a large population of Navy personnel, plus the headquarters of the WNC, residential quarters in Navy Nagar and other pockets including Malad seafront in north-west Mumbai.
Earlier, Mr Gadkari and Mr Fadnavis laid the foundation stone for the swank new international cruise terminal, which will come up in the Mumbai port.
Slated to cost Rs 300 crore, it will have all facilities like an airport with separate arrival and departure lounges and cater to around seven lakh tourists annually arriving or departing by cruise liners, and is expected to be ready by December 2019.
Mr Fadnavis said that this international cruise terminal is part of the government’s four-pronged policy to develop Mumbai on water, sky, ground and underground, with water transport, new international airport, roads and flyovers and the underground Mumbai Metro.
This will make Mumbai a global cruise destination, create huge employment opportunities, increase the number of tourists and contribute to the GDP growth of Mumbai and Maharashtra, the Chief Minister said.
Spread over 4.15 lakh sq feet, the terminal will be equipped to host cruise ships with a capacity of around 5,000 passengers, with restaurants, shopping, recreational and leisure activities, which would also be accessible to the local population.
In fact, in 2016-2017, around 55 international cruise ships carrying over 60,000 passengers touched Mumbai, which is now expected to grow ten-fold to around 700 vessels annually.
With Mumbai alone expected to handle nearly three-fourths of this estimated huge growth in cruise liner traffic, the government plans to develop other ports (besides Mumbai) like Goa, Mangalore, Kochi and Chennai to cater to big and small international cruise ships.