A few weeks ago, I wrote about the potential threat posed by attempted entry of Chinese companies in to Mumbai’s historic BDD Chawls’ redevelopment project. The presence of Chinese civil, mechanical and electrical engineers and experts is likely to pose a constant threat to the security of not only the huge premises of the chawls situated in the densely populated Central Mumbai but also to the entire city. Curiously the Chinese companies are entering the city with the support of local companies. By doing this, the Chinese capital is likely to enter India without facing any legal hassle. Curiously before the Maharashtra Government or the Mumbai City Corporation took any preventive steps, China’s yet another engineering giant Gezhouba Group Company Ltd, with its consortium partner, is participating in a bidding process for the Mumbai Municipal Corporation-led Mumbai Coastal Road Project. This act has caused rising of many eye-brows as if Chinese companies are allowed to participate in the most sensitive Coastal road project, the marine security is likely to get affected hugely.
As I tried to probe in to the matter further, to my surprise, I found that the Group in question has a dubious track record in the Indian subcontinent as one of its hydro-power project was cancelled by Nepal government recently over irregularities. China Gezhouba group is constructing Hydro power plants in Pak-Occupied Kashmir as well as Khyber Pakhtunwalla province also. Interestingly, all Chinese companies were disqualified from bidding for the ambitious Rs 18,000 crore Mumbai Trans-Harbor Link project purportedly for security reasons.
City at high risk
Unfortunately, some steps taken by the BMC recently is putting Mumbai city to high risk. The BMC has prequalified and included a Chinese company – China Gezhouba Group Company Ltd – for submitting their bids in the tendering process for the Design & Build of ambitious and strategically vital project – the Mumbai Coastal Road. That this is a security risk of Himalayan proportions is obvious and it begs the question: why is the Shiv Sena led MCGM, which is so overtly nationalistic, allowing something that is so blatantly anti-nationalistic?
The Mumbai Coastal project will be built in two phases by the BMC: the first phase, which is presently under the tendering process, will comprise a 9.98 km stretch from Marine Drive to the existing Bandra-Worli Sea Link and is expected to be completed in four years. It will start with a tunnel at Chowpatty which will link to Priyadarshini Park, after which it will pass through the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. This phase will have four interchanges at Amarsons Garden at Breach Candy, Haji Ali, Worli and Bandra. The complete stretch is divided into three packages: one tunnel and two other packages involving construction of elevated roads and roads on reclaimed land. Also, the tunnel in this project is going to be dug below Malabar Hill where several of the political functionaries, including Maharashtra Chief Minister and Governor, have their official residences. Imagine the security risk to them if a Chinese company with Chinese workmen are going to dig that tunnel.
The inclusion of Chinese state-run China Gezhouba Group Company Ltd. is particularly disturbing because this company comes with a dubious track record in the Indian subcontinent. One of their Hydro-power projects in Nepal was cancelled by the Nepal Government recently over irregularities and lack of transparency. The Nepal ministry post cancellation quoted: “In the meeting of the Board of Ministers held today, the agreement with the Gezhouba Group in respect of Budhi Gandaki Hydro Electric Project was found in an irregular and thoughtless manner and rejected under the direction of Parliamentary Committee.” China Gezhouba is also involved with numerous projects in Pakistan, including the Dasu hydropower plant on river Indus, 640MW Azad-Pattan Hydropower Project in Pak-Occupied Kashmir through a subsidiary and Suki Kinari Hydro Power Project in Khyber Pakhutunwala coming up under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
This definitely does not augur well for either the BMC or the project in case this Chinese company, albeit in partnership with an Indian firm, were to be awarded the mandate to build the Coastal Road. Interestingly, all Chinese companies were disqualified from bidding for the ambitious Rs 18,000 crore Mumbai Trans-Harbor Link project purportedly for security reasons. If that be so, then how come this Chinese company is being found passing musters to bid for an equally strategic and sensitive project like the Mumbai Coastal Road?
Another alarming piece of news doing the rounds is that China has devised a novel strategy to relieve pressure on its overcrowded prisons: to employ those convicts as labourers on overseas construction projects. Thousands of Chinese convicts, for example, have been pressed into service on projects undertaken by state-run Chinese companies in Sri Lanka, a strategically important country for China as it seeks to enhance its regional position in the Indian Ocean. If this is true, India is heading for a bigger threat for sure.
Against ‘Make in India’
Further, allowing such Chinese companies to bid goes against one of the Central Government’s prime initiatives of ‘Make in India’. Since most Chinese companies are state-run, they are able to undercut and quote ridiculously low rates to win projects, thus, leaving established leading homegrown construction companies like AFCONS, Shapoorji Pallonji, Larsen & Toubro, Jaiprakash Associates, LANCO, Nagarjuna Construction, to name just a few, high and dry. Surely, the incumbent companies require a level playing field to compete in. Surely, these well-known construction companies are aware of the overall scenario and even then, to seek such partnerships is almost tantamount to being anti-national. Surely, the security of the country and its financial capital is of paramount importance. Sadly, that security is being severely compromised with this move of allowing such companies build vital and sensitive infrastructure in India. It cannot and should not be allowed!
To sum up I can only wish and pray that the BMC and the Maharashtra Government wake up faster to revoke the entry of Chinese capital and companies in vital tasks like Coastal Road. Any delay would be too late and would pose a serious threat to the national security for ever.
The author is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).