The Mumbai-Elephanta Caves ropeway project, which has been hanging fire for three years, has cleared the most crucial hurdle. It secured clearance from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority last week.
The move allows the Mumbai Port Trust to finally take up the plan that aims to boost tourism.
It had got the go-ahead from the central government’s standing finance committee in July last year.
Sanjay Bhatia, MbPT chairperson, said there’s just one more clearance pending—from the Archaeological Society of India, which maintains the Elephanta Caves. “We have already invited tenders and are in the process of screening the bids.”
Anil Diggikar, principal secretary of the state environment department, said the nod was granted after it was ascertained that the ropeway would not in any way disturb marine life. “We have also permitted the widening of the jetty at Elephanta for better passenger movement.” The Elephanta jetty is around 3 metres wide. Half of it has been occupied by the mini-train that ferries tourists from the landing point to the steps that lead to the Elephanta Caves.
The 14-minute, 8-km Mumbai-Elephanta ropeway will be the longest and the first such across the sea in the country.
At present, ferries from the Gateway of India provide the only access to the UNESCO world heritage site. But a one-way ride takes close to an hour and inclement weather can bring operations to a halt, leaving the 1,200-odd residents of the island in a limbo.
The project will be undertaken on a public-private partnership model, and MbPT plans to get all statutory clearances by August this year. Work is expected to start the month after, and wind up by October 2022.
Initially, the plan was to start the 30-seater cable cars from Sewri, but the landing terminal had been shifted a little over 1 km away to Haji Bunder to avoid disturbing the migratory flamingos and the Mumbai-Trans Harbour Link. Nearly 10,000 sqm of land will be given for the terminal’s construction.
The 16-sqkm island has several archaeological ruins, including the famous rock-cut temples. It has evidence of settlement from 2nd century BC, but the temples are believed to have been built around 5th-6th century AD. Over 10 lakh people visit the tourist attraction every year. The island was connected to the electric grid in February this year, 70 years after power lines were reportedly torn down at the end of British rule. Besides the temples, the island’s key attraction is the two-day Elephanta Cultural Festival, which has been organised by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation every February for nearly 30 years now.