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Mumbai: The sun hasn't set, not yet

T.V. Mahalingam     August 18, 2008

Mumbai from the air and Mumbai on the ground are poles apart. The breathtaking picture on this page has a lot to do with a photographer’s eye for composition, as well as illusions that distance can create. The reality on the ground couldn’t be more different.

A lensman's delight: On the ground, though, things couldn?t be more different
On the ground, though, things couldn't be more different
Tell anybody who lives in Mumbai that the city has been voted the best to do business in the country (yet again), and the reaction is often acerbic sarcasm. “Maybe the best in the country, but perhaps the 100th or the 120th city in the world… or even below,” says Percy Mistry, a former World Banker who headed the high-powered Expert Committee that penned a report on how Mumbai can become an international financial centre. “The city has an air of antediluvian seediness... It’s a gigantic pile of neglect,” adds Mistry.

One does not have to walk down the lanes of Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum) or sample the odious stench of the Mithi river (which flows through parts of the city) to realise that. A 20-minute journey in a first-class compartment of a local train at any hour or an energetic bout of puddle-hopping after the city’s first rains anywhere is proof enough. “If people still think that the city is a good place to live or do business in, God save them,” says Debi Goenka, a member of Bombay Environmental Action Group, a Mumbai-based NGO.

Meantime, even as Mumbai’s roads begin to look more and more like the moon’s surface with every passing rainy day, at his weekly press conference, the city’s Civic Chief, Jairaj Phatak, is in a mood for some Macbeth. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” gushes the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM).

Several mega projects have been announced, but progress has been painfully slow.
Several mega projects have been announced, but progress has been painfully slow
The good Commissioner’s reason for quoting the Bard would have the best literature professors scratching their heads. It ostensibly has to do with yet another controversy that’s dividing the city across linguistic and regional lines.

Phatak had reportedly said that more than half the patients in the city’s hospitals were “outsiders”, and were straining the city’s medical infrastructure. After taking a lot of flak for that statement, he suggested that the municipality would conduct a survey to ascertain if that, indeed, was the case.

 Infra talk

Projects were announced by the government as part of the state Budget 2008-09, but that’s just a drop in the ocean.

  • Storm water drainage: Continue implementation of a storm water drainage system with an additional investment of Rs 400 crore.

  • Elevated pedestrian sky walks: Construction of one such sky walk connecting Bandra station to Kalanagar is complete. Sky walks connecting Kanjurmarg station to the Vikhroli-Jogeshwari link road and another at Virar station have been proposed.

  • Mumbai metro rail: Construction started on the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor; to be completed by 2010.

  • High-speed railway: A high-speed train between Mumbai and Nagpur via Marathwada has been proposed; consultant appointed to check feasibility.

  • Octroi replacement: Proposal to replace octroi with an account-based cess in “D” class municipal corporations in ‘08-09.

  • More FSI: Floor space index to be enhanced by 0.33 per cent (to 1.33 per cent) in the Mumbai suburban district on payment of premium.

  • More local trains: 156 new trains on Central, Western and Harbour lines to be introduced in the next 18 months.
Such controversies have become rather commonplace in the city and the city’s municipal corporation, more often than not, has been associated with them. The MCGM’s recent edicts—just one of them: Everything, right from all official communication to name boards of shops should be in Marathi—have attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. “People should remember that Mumbai is much more than just the capital of the state of Maharashtra,” says Mistry. That statement is underscored by the fact that a third of the country’s direct tax collections comes from the city alone. The projected indirect tax collections from Mumbai stand at Rs 84,890 crore, as against Rs 64,899 crore collected in 2007-08. Mumbai’s share in total indirect tax collections in the country is expected to be 27 per cent in the current fiscal.

Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman, HCC
Ajit Gulabchand
With such a massive contribution to the country’s exchequer, many believe that the city deserves better infrastructure and governance. “Delhi has put in additional physical infrastructure like flyovers, metro rail….that’s still not happened in Mumbai,” says Anuj Puri, Chairman & Country Head, Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj. Although the state government has announced several “mega projects” in the past four years, progress has been painfully slow. Puri believes that projects like a sea link from the suburbs to the southern-most tip of Mumbai, upgradation of the city’s railway system and increasing connectivity with Navi Mumbai and beyond (where a couple of SEZs are slated to come up are going to be crucial for the city’s growth.

Jairaj Phatak, Municipal Corporation Chief, Mumbai
Jairaj Phatak
Another issue that plagues the city is accountability. The city’s municipal body is ruled by a Shiv Senaled alliance, the state government by the Congress.

As a result, the two bodies often do not see eye to eye on most issues. Says Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman, HCC (Hindustan Construction Company): “Unless cities and towns have their own autonomous governments, speedy urban infrastructure development is unlikely to happen.” HCC is constructing a muchdelayed sea link between suburban and Central Mumbai.

Anuj Puri, Chairman, Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj
Anuj Puri
As Mumbai’s physical and social infrastructure continues to corrode away, the city continues to float on its reputation of a metropolis that gives breaks to dreamers and almost anybody a second chance. And that’s something even a lackadaisical government will have to work hard to damage.


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