For my last post, I got comments like ‘it raised many questions but no answer’ or ‘it was just fun, nothing in-depth’. So, I’m back here and would like to address all those things now, though I never planned to come up with this topic yet again. First of all, I should say what organizations like “Bombay First” are doing is really remarkable but I think there are certain issues pertaining to the famous red-tapes of our country. Apart from them, I came across few more things which can be looked into, while reading through various articles over past one month.
As been rightly said by one person (sorry for not remembering his name), “Currently, Mumbai is a divided city — a city of the rich and the poor who live parallel yet inter-dependent lives.” It is a city that has edged away from manufacturing, which defined its central character, towards services without dealing with the messy leftovers of the move from one to the other. It is a city that projects and protects its cosmopolitan physical heritage while at the same time falling in with political demands by certain parties/organizations which emphasize their locations within Maharashtra. A vision of a city caught between so many contenders — the industrialist and the worker, the son of the soil and the world citizen, the elite and the poor — all claiming its citizenship must necessarily integrate their needs.
Two crucial areas in terms of transforming the city are transport and housing. Currently, Mumbai's record on public transport is average while on housing it is poor. This is evident from the fact that more than half the population lives in slums. The image of Mumbai as India's financial capital has gradually been replaced by its reality as India's slum capital — Slum-bay. This image of deterioration and physical decline has also contributed, to some extent, to the decline in its growth rate, something that worries the corporate world. In the last three or four years, Mumbai's GDP growth rate has declined to less than even 2.5 per cent per annum. The cost of doing business in Mumbai is just too high because of extortionist land prices and a deteriorating and over-stretched infrastructure.
Another question is that of raising the finances to implement improvement schemes. Multilateral agencies like the World Bank will be approached as they have been in the past. But the Bank has only just concluded negotiations for the $542 million Mumbai Urban Transport Project II (MUTP II) after a process that took an incredible 14 years. Over this period, the State Government, the Railways and the Municipal Corporation had to agree to institutional reform to ensure what the Bank sees as "sustainability" of the project. One of the prerequisites was the creation of an autonomous corporation, the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) that would straddle Western and Central Railways and take care of the railway component of the MUTP.
Another criterion for the MUTP was addressing the issue of poverty. Thus, the resettlement and rehabilitation of the 20,000 or so families that lived along the railway tracks and on land belonging to the Railways had to be negotiated. The Bank made their resettlement a precondition to the project. The three entities, the Railways, the State Government and the Municipal Corporation had to reach a consensus on how this would be done. Only after this was agreed to did the Bank clear the project. In fact, the model that this has created is one that can be replicated in other infrastructure projects as inevitably when a new road has to be built, a railway line expanded or water and sewerage pipes laid, people and their habitats are directly affected. Given this long and complicated process of negotiation for the MUTP, funding will be neither instant nor easy.
The McKinsey report does carry some useful suggestions. For instance, it suggests the creation of a single transportation agency that combines the roads department of the Municipal Corporation, the MRVC, and the Mumbai-related transport functions of the Public Works Department of the State Government, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation. Taking off from the model of the MRVC, which will facilitate the expansion of the commuter railway lines in Mumbai, such a step would help. Similarly, some of the suggestions on raising additional revenues so that the funding of the needs of the city is not dependent on external borrowings or donors are also worth examining.
In my opinion, major focus should be on generating momentum through quick wins, may be by focusing on some quick "on the ground" implementation that will be visible in a period of 1-2 years. This will not only help in developing a mindset but would also develop certain degree of confidence in people that “Yes, something can happen even in Mumbai”.
The long term things would be of immense significance, too. First and foremost of them is Maharashtra Trans Harbor Link (MTHL). Once completed, the MTHL will help decongest Mumbai, which now has a population of nearly 15 million. The design would comprise the main bridge across the harbor with approaches on sides, a 15-km dispersal system in Mumbai and a 35-km dispersal facility on the mainland. It would be an intelligent superhighway with a 4x4 road bridge and a corridor railway bridge equipped with sophisticated systems, multi-storey parking lots, shuttle bus services and other facilities. It will also prove to be a boon to a slew of economic activities coming up in the satellite township of Navi Mumbai and neighboring Raigad district, including Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport. There were many newsflashes across all the channels about two big bids for this project by Ambani brothers. However, both the bids were found to be unrealistic, and hence it was decided to cancel the tender process. Then, within a fortnight, MSRDC was asked to come up with its proposal for the project and then work will be taken up by year-end. So, again it seems like another dead end for a project which has been proposed in last century!!!
But my optimism takes the better of me again. Second big project, the Mumbai Metro recently received a big boost with the Central Govt. saying that it will take care of the viability gap. Well, this is another important development because this might help a lot in resolving the traffic and distances issue. Clearly, it is time for both the State and Central Govt to do something about the MTHL as well otherwise; it will remain where it is - a missing link.
Moreover, apart from all these physical characteristics, there has to be a change in the attitude of mumbaikars. How does the current situation stand up to these criteria? Driving without a license is easy to get away with (in any case, the punishment is just a 300 rupee fine!). Even a licensed driver has typically learned nothing beyond control of a vehicle. Priorities at intersections, correct behavior at traffic lights, avoiding obstruction of traffic, safely entering busy roads, carefully changing lanes and moderating one's speed - these notions might as well be abstract mathematics for a driver in Mumbai today. At the highest level, our traffic police needs to focus on its primary job - providing guidance. An analogy with parenting is appropriate here. Research shows that parents who are overindulgent most of the time, but occasionally inflict harsh punishment, are the worst kind. Their children do not follow principles of good behavior but only learn to avoid getting caught. The situation on our streets is similar and our response is that of badly brought-up children. The remedy for both problems is the same: an emphasis on guidance and training, explanations and stern warnings, with punishment reserved for repeated and deliberate offences. As this is the exact opposite of current practice, it will take time and a major publicity campaign - for the idea to catch on.
There is no question that something fairly drastic has to be done to deal with the urban crisis in cities like Mumbai. But it is essential to have a vision that encompasses the realities of these cities, how they have grown and who lives in them. Cities are increasingly a joint enterprise of the rich and the poor. A vision for their future must integrate the needs of both — being "world class" should not mean catering only to one class by creating a few islands of comfort for the rich while neglecting the rest of the city. And the question here is not if the city can afford this wrongly quoted “world class” status but whether we can afford to live in this reverie!
2 weeks ago