The much-awaited Mumbai metro has got embroiled in a legal dispute over tariff, a day before commencement of its operations, with the state-run MMRDA moving the court against the operator over fare hike.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has said he would inaugurate the service, which is expected to ease traffic congestion on the city's roads and provide much-needed relief to commuters using the overburdened suburban railway, only if the operator -- Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd (MMOPL) agrees to stick to the "original" tariff quoted in the tender.
Debashish Mohanty, a Director of MMOPL, however, said they would go ahead with the launch of the service tomorrow even if the Chief Minister does not come for the inauguration.
"I have agreed to inaugurate the metro service on the condition that the company sticks to the tariff mentioned in the tender. If it wants to go for a hike, it should approach the tariff fixation committee justifying the reasons," Chavan told reporters.
He said Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has moved the Bombay High Court against the hike and the matter would come up for hearing on Monday.
MMOPL is a joint venture company comprising Anil Ambani's Reliance Infrastructure, Veolia Transport and the MMRDA.
"It has to be the decision of the CM (whether to inaugurate the service or not). We have invited him and are awaiting confirmation," Mohanty said.
He said MMOPL, as the Metro Railway Administrator under the Central Metro Act, was within its rights to fix the tariff.
"Since we are governed by the Central Metro Act, for which the state government had made a plea to the Centre, we are competent to fix the tariff and we have done that," Mohanty said.
Earlier in the day, MMOPL Chief Executive Abhay Mishra announced services on the 11.4 km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar stretch, Phase 1 of the project, will commence tomorrow and trains would be available every four minutes.
The announcement by the operator of the launch, delayed by three years, came after yesterday's threat by local BJP MP Kirit Somaiya to start the service by "force" today.
Somaiya and another BJP MP from the city Gopal Shetty were detained with their supporters by Ghatkopar police this afternoon while demanding the launch of metro today, according to Senior Inspector Rajaram Vhanmane.The Chief Minister accused BJP of using "pressure tactics" to help Reliance Infrastructure to raise the tariff.
Mohanty refused to comment on Chavan's remark.
MMOPL and the state government have been locked in a dispute over the fares for quite some time. The operator fixed a minimum fare of Rs 10 and a maximum of Rs 40 for a one way journey, going against the Maharashtra Government's notified fare band of Rs 9-13, citing cost escalation in the three-phase project, work on which began eight years ago.
For the city where the sight of harried passengers clinging precariously to the doors and windows of overcrowded coaches of suburban trains is common, the metro service promises to give a new travel experience.
The company said it will operate 200-250 services a day, carrying around 11 lakh passengers. Every coach can carry 375 passengers, while the entire train can transport 1,500 commuters.
Over 70 lakh commuters use the suburban railway everyday.
The metro service comes four months after the city got the country's first monorail between suburban Chembur and Wadala on February 1 this year.