Work Area Management 1

I have been talking on the need for a Work Area Management policy for Mumbai/MMR for very long and this is my first or so blog post. The government needs to look into the enormous inconvenience faced by people during civil works. Every year has some new requirement, utilities have to be laid, roads have to be repaired or remade. Dust, labour standards, noise, materials management are the four key components and every civic contract (using tax payers money) should abide by policy guidelines.

Two weeks back I raised alarm over the shocking levels of dust from the Marine Drive resurfacing and captured it in a video here, sent a letter and the issue was covered in a newspaper article as well. The video link is here

Marine Drive ToI article Marine Drive dust letter MCGM

The experience captured in pics below is from today. The whole Horniman Circle is being relaid, paver blocks being scooped out and asphalt coming in place. Pictures are below.

Following stands out

1. The existing paver block surface is/was exceptionally good. The case for asaphalt is valid but then paver block surfaces, which are laid out well (and have good ride quality) should be replaced only when the quality starts wearing out. There are hundreds of junctions which are in a bad condition in the city and priority suggests that they should be attended to first.

2. The high level of traffic chaos is evident. The photos do not capture the incessant honking by the vehicles. This leads to point 4.

3. There are high dust levels on the road which is then blown up due to cars and pedestrians entering local establishments as well.

4. The whole work can clearly be carried out in the night since this is a purely commercial area with no residential population which would face disturbance. Work should be carried out in phases and minimal work during day time. The Additional Municipal Commissioner in charge of roads has in one of the news articles remarked that “….constructing or improving roads in Mumbai is like performing a heart surgery on a man who is refusing to even lie down.” There are enough locations where the complete work can be completed between 11pm- 7am. The processes and technology in use currently is clearly outdated and from an altogether different era.

Below is the chaos left over from the Reliance JIO optic fibre work across the city. Every road and by lane has this kind of a scene. I lodged a complaint on 1916 10 days bak but only got a complaint number and no redressal.

WP_20150401_005 WP_20150401_007 WP_20150401_001 WP_20150401_002 WP_20150401_003 WP_20150401_004

Below is an electricity cable being laid at 9:30 am at junction of S V Road and Amboli i Andheri (W). The work took up almost one lane. Being peak hour it lead to traffic pile up on all sides. Again should be done at night or between 6-8 am.

BEST Amboli-SV Road 2 BEST Amboli-SV Road

Thoughts from the Raj Thackeray meeting today

I was very upset with the way Mr. Raj Thackeray’s function to discuss the Development Plan 2034 and Aarey was organised. At the end of the function I expressed my displeasure with other members of the Save Aarey group and some members of MNS and left without exchanging in any of the superfluous pleasantries at the end of such functions. For those who wouldn’t know, today Mr. Raj Thackeray in his personal capacity decided to keep a function to discuss the draft Development Plan of Mumbai and the Aarey issue, which has got strong highlight as a result of the efforts of the Save Aarey movement.

As a prelude the Save Aarey movement members had met him when he visited the car shed site of Aarey, I had personally showed him around and explained the many issues. Even before, his wife and son had visited and Save Aarey members had accompanied them as well. Subsequently he had invited us to his office where he explained his plan for the program on 28th March.

The whole proceeding today did not see a SINGLE mention of the efforts of the Save Aarey movement and the enormous effort through much difficulty that a few citizens have made in the past eight months towards giving the character and scale to the public discourse over saving this important green lung of Mumbai. Not a single mention. It was as if Save Aarey movement did not exist. As if he knew none of us.

This clearly cannot be without design. Anybody who would discuss an issue which has been much in public discussion would by default mention the names of the key stakeholder(s). It is natural to have it on your tongue, as a means of either general comment or appreciation. You do not discuss the World Cup cricket without discussing specific teams and players. You do not discuss advertisements and spectators. And yet the entertainers (advertisements) and the naturalists (the spectators) were the focus of the function.

This can only happen by taking a conscious decision to not even mention, forget appreciate the efforts. Who took this decision I don’t know but somebody did. Possibly Raj Thackeray wanted his function to be all about himself and nobody else – facts be dammed or it was P K Das’s decision who really seemed to be the ‘architect’ of the program structure. My feeling is it is more of PK. Raj Thackeray showed up for less than 15 mins during the function.

I was not expecting to be welcomed on the stage or felicitated or anything but not to have even a mention of the efforts was downright insult. I had not come to fill the auditorium and clap at regular intervals or ogle at film stars whom I care a damn about. I found this in keeping with with this syndrome which is in India’s DNA to not give credit where it is due, steal from patents, reverse engineer and all that usual bullshit with which the national character is almost synonymous. People will not do original work but have the energy to build on others work with fervour and displacement.

Mr. Raj Thackeray’s video showcasing his blueprint on a vision for Maharashtra released in September 2014, among other things strongly emphasizes that it is not the role of elected representatives and government officials alone to change the despicable situation. It exhorts citizens to have a sense of belonging to their state and city and even go beyond the call of duty in changing the country. It commented upon how the youth leave the country for greener pastures in the west because of the better facilities there. I could argue that those countries and cultures have a stronger (relatively not absolutely)  sense of ethics with regards to recognizing individual effort and standing up against injustice, which creates the attraction for talent to migrate.

I could argue that some of the points or the theme of the film may have been borrowed from my book The Futility of Aam Admi Party versus the Promise of Active Citizenship published earlier in April 2014 but that would be conjecture and I am certainly not holding a grudge on that account.

Efforts like those by citizens who are members of Save Aarey is what is in such grave shortage in the city and country today. As a shameless society and culture we do not provide any material support to such efforts but to not even have some gratitude at such a function needs some commentary.

P K Das hogged the stage for more than one hour with his hyper inflated architect ego (The whole Robert Moses and Hafeez Contractor combine kind of phenomenon to ruthlessly dominate the form and shape of a city) while trying to show empathy and a desire to serve the city. I am by now irritated enough with PK to put it publicly. I can never get to have a clear sense of who he really is, what values and ideology he really stands for, almost always left with this smoke and mirrors feeling and games within games. His unabashed ambition and aggression and moving and wanting to dominate every facet and discussion at the displacement of others is really ridiculous and irritating. Maybe I am also envious of his boundless energy and resources.

In this case he was no where in the efforts to save Aarey in the preceding months but realising that the oven was hot decided to bake his cake and then eat it too. First come in as a supporter and attend the meetings and organise meetings with Raj Thackeray etc. and then just usurp the issue and take over the planning of the area with the raw might arising out his financial strength and having half a dozen employees at beck in call in his architecture firm to generate high quality drawings and presentations.

PK clearly overdid his stay on the stage and was outdoing the entertainers in theatrics and repeating some information far too many times over but would not leave the stage or expend some energy in appreciating the efforts of Save Aarey.

With regards to Aarey there was a slot given to the work of Zeeshan Mirza, Rajesh Sanap and Nayan Khanolkar in the extensive documenting of the biodiversity of Aarey over the years. One slide showed them even standing behind the CM and Dy. CM of the previous government after having received an award and a joke that the same government then went ahead and gave permission for a car shed at Aarey. Nayan represented the trio and went about showing footage of the leopard territory being encroached upon by Royal Palms and about how the leopard is an integral part of the landscape. Besides showing species of spiders and scorpions and butterflies, some of which have been discovered by the duo and trio. There were videos and photos.

My argument is that this footage or documentation of Aarey is not what has contributed to the overwhelming public discourse in favour of saving Aarey. This follows from my disdain of the naturalist community of Mumbai, which displays Himalayan proportions of indifference and lack of courage in intervening in the preservation of the very ecological assets that they explore inside out, have earned their masters and doctorates from, made careers either from academic work or from photos, videos and writing prose and poetry about.

This category loves to exaggerate that high quality photos taken by them contribute to conservation. An earlier generation developed a great career on it and now another generation takes the tradition forward. Conservation happens by taking strong positions, by giving time and sweat and blood to campaign and make a noise about protection. All this photography is nature porn at the end of the day borrowing from the term food porn.

In the case of Aarey I have not seen any of the naturalists making the noises over the years. I have never seen a Zeeshan, Rajesh or Nayan themselves make any strong position or effort over the years, though they were in a far better and stronger position than me or others who have joined in the past six months. to save Aarey. And I know Zeehan and Rajesh well and enjoy a good relationship. But that is just the way – the norm – with naturalists in Mumbai. After their work in Aarey things took the usual trajectory, which has served well many before. There is recognition, invites from Western nations and then opportunities to be reputed research scholars and good funding for their works. Few ever save the habitat they worked in. Recently I pulled in (here) from past email records and my posts in Dec 2003 highlighting the urgent need to look into the many violations on the Goregaon side and the need to define the buffer accurately. The whole decade was an orgy of enjoying nature by the naturalists community.

Had some of us not taken such a strong non negotiable position first on the Aarey Road expansion and the zoo and then on the car shed the destructive activities would have just gone ahead with possibly little or no noise or usual chest beating about the degradation of the city from the naturalist community. There is enough evidence on that from past from Aarey itself not to mention many other locations.

And then finally came the entertainers. Six of them on the stage with some usual stuff, too boring to even right about. There were some women members from the party behind demanding that a particular star be called upon the stage, not knowing that he had left a lot earlier. People (including many in the Save Aarey movement) have this mistaken notion that by giving star power to campaigns there is a turbo boost and influences outcome. I am tired by now in arguing people out of it. These are the torments of having been in too many effforts over the years, having good memory and documenting history and trends over years. Better to have a short (public) memory, enjoy the stars and snacks and sleep peacefully.

A gash in SGNP

One of the more interesting things to capture my attention in the Executive Summary DP 2034 has been the gash into SGNP from the Goregaon side. This patch has been of interest to me since 2002 when I first saw the blasting. Even as we discuss Save Aarey currently it is important to discuss how this white patch intrudes into SGNP and should not this area be the buffer?

The gash I speak about is the the neat square white patch in the images below which I have captured from the Executive Summary document. The white patch intrudes ugly and very symmetrically into in the green patch of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Compare with Google Earth images below.

The hills side under discussion is viewed in pics below


A neat tree line is visible taking up most of the hill side


Same hill side see from far.


2003 is when I first raised an alarm about the blasting happening on the hills sides besides Film City Road and adjacent to the Nagari Nivaraa colony. I raised the matter in conversations on Mumbai Naturalists yahoo group hoping to create some traction and pressure group on the same. Post 2003 my involvement with SGNP and its buffer reduced drastically because I got more involved with urban issues besides my involvement with mangroves.

The conversations from December 2003 are there in the images below.

Part 1 – 6 are the emails from Debi Goenka recording conversations with noted biologist and conservationist George Schaller and commentary on an article by Vijay Singh, then in Indian Express.

Part 7-8 is reply by Dr. Satheesan.

Part 9 – 10 is my comments on the issue highlighting the state of affairs of the Goregaon hills and Part 11 is a comment by Dr. Satheesan to my email.

As was not uncommon there was no reply from Debi. I had since April 2002 been deeply critical of his and BEAGs conduct and would remark then that it was easier to get information from the government (in pre-RTI era) but impossible to get information from BEAG.



The pics below show the latest Google Earth images and also pics from 2000 onwards. The amount of damage by blasting and subsequent new constructions is evident.

We still do not have any idea about what is the existing buffer of SGNP and whether we need to take any steps for improving the edges. No discussion either.



Coast Road diary


Today I spent time trying to understand what will be the capacity to transport of the coast road project.The 128 odd km train network transports 7 million people everyday. 4000 BEST buses running on whatever number of route kms transport 4 million people. Similarly the 36km coast road, how many people will it transport?

For example if the project is 36 kms long and has four lanes and if each lane is 3.5 meters wide then we have a conveyor belt whose total area will be

For one kilometer

1000 meters into 14 meters = 14000 sq.mtrs.

For 36kms

14000 x 36kms = 504000 sq mtrs.

Now if each car(to begin with only cars) is occupying 25 sq. mtrs of space then we can have 504000/25 = 20160 cars on this conveyor belt – two lanes are for south and two for north.

Now if these lanes are moving at a consistent speed of 50kmph then how many vehicles pass through in an hour? How many people (depending on vehicle type, single person driving a car or a bus full of people) would be transported in an hour? How many in a day.

I checked the coast road report and realised that the dimensions of the road are much more

Widths of coast road

We will see a total road width of 36ms so the above calculation changes to

1000 x 36 = 36000 sq. mtrs.

For 36 kms

36000 x 36 = 1296000 sq mtrs area

And 1296000/25 = 51840 cars

Subsequently I decided to check up on google and found this useful document – technical paper from Transport for London on the same subject. Though the document has not given the answer it has all the correct formulae and principles to be followed. Now hopefully I will be able to with the assistance of more trained people be able to ascertain how many people will be able to flow in the peak directions on the coast road.

My concern is that as per the coast road they are providing 18 meters of road in each direction which is 60 feet wide. I do not see any road along the west coast which is 60 feet wide – one side? Everybody moving on the coast road has to join the mainland sometime and when four lanes converge into less than two lanes like in Bandra and Juhu and Andheri then will that not lead to traffic backing up on the coast road? Leading to traffic jams transferring from the internal city roads to the coast road?

Inputs to BMC Solid Waste Management five year vision plan – Swacch Mumbai

In November 2014 The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai – MCGM or also BMC – invited citizens who have been involved with the solid waste management issue to contribute to a five year vision plan that they are developing to address Mumbai’s waste management. The following message was received in my inbox.

In response to Hon. Prime Minister of India’s call for “Swachcha Bharat” at the launch of this ambitious nation-wide programme on 2nd October, 2014, MCGM intends to prepare a comprehensive five year action plan about cleanliness and sanitation for the entire city of Mumbai under “Swaccha Mumbai Abhiyaan”. 
In view of the same, suggestions are requested from different stakeholders. We are aware that your organization plays an important role in tackling various issues related to urban solid waste management and is actively working in your field of expertise.
We would welcome if your organization could share its expertise in form of views/suggestions/recommendations for developing a vision document for Clean Mumbai. We will take into consideration your valuable inputs/suggestions and draft an action plan to achieve total cleanliness in the city by 2019.


Office of Chief Engineer (Solid Waste Management)
89, Love Grove Complex,
Dr. Annie Besant Road,
Worli- 400018
In response I put in the email copied below in italics with this attachment MCGM Budget for decentralised SWM. The sheet in the PDF document is work in progress but my reading is that for Rs, 30 crores such a setup can work very well and the BMC should absolutely invest in such an initiative. Like I have been continuously saying that there is no rocket science at all in waste management. One of the biggest components is training, education, awareness and enforcement all of which is human resource intensive.
BMC is wasting crores of public money on corrupt transportation contracts which are meant for siphoning of public money and create the problem of garbage dumps but is not willing to spend on hand holding and training of people. Every European and North American country has spent enormously on capacity building to achieve the great cleanliness standards that they have.  If you still haven’t seen the Satyamev Jayate episode please do here for some more insight.
Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for providing the opportunity to contribute to the process of developing a vision document for Clean Mumbai. I apologise for the delay since I was very busy. I have following three specific suggestions which the BMC should consider for implementation.

1) Create budget to hire dedicated human resource for supporting segregation
As a country we are acutely aware of the need to reduce the amount of waste that goes to dumping grounds and to take all necessary measures to achieve the same. The issue has been taken cognizance of adequately by various statutory institutions of the country – the Supreme Court, Parliament and urban local bodies. And yet we are seeing that in Greater Mumbai ever greater amounts of waste is being sent to dumping grounds.

We can only transform our good intentions into outcomes if we allocate human and financial resources in the right direction. We need to demonstrate that we are sincere and serious about reducing waste going to dumping grounds and are not just giving it lip service. Towards that end please find attached a spreadsheet drawing out a proposal to create the necessary budget for hiring the right human resource for undertaking activities and education which will show definite reduction in waste going to dumping grounds.

The spread sheet is still in draft stage and meant to give an idea. One manager per ward and 10 communicators/specialists per ward should be hired. Those numbers are presented. I will be happy to detail and contribute further when the idea find support conceptually. This in my list is the most important step which teh MCGM needs to undertake.

2) Creating an R&D and social entrepreneur support Budget

We need to create and R&D and innovation support fund in the budget. Grants need to be made available to SWM entrepreneurs to try out their projects. This will make available over the years a rich bank of practical knowledge about what is working and not working. I propose that Rs. 5 crores be kept aside in the SWM budget for such activity and a committee of known experts and practioners be formed to scrutinise and approve the proposals.

3) Create physical space for decentralised SWM
In the DP meetings earlier this year the most emphatic suggestion we made was the create space within the city for decentralsied solid waste management activities. The corporation needs to urgently create at least one more per ward dry waste collection and sorting centres like the one successfully running in Juhu, operated by Ragini Jain on BMC plot of about 10000sft. Once the space is provided the entrepreneur is able to set up support infrastructure like van for dry waste collection, administrator etc. setting in place a positive cycle and reduced waste going to dumping grounds.
Thank you once again for the opportunity and I will appreciate if MCGM comes back with comments on my suggestions and decides to incorporate these.


Rishi Aggarwal

Research Fellow

Observer Research Foundation Mumbai

Would be happy to hear from you in the form of comments or email me. Please do share as well if you consider relevant.

The Desire to do Good versus the Desire to be in Power

Towards the last few days of 2014 I found myself sitting through what seems to be a standard (excruciating) discussion on any progressive waste management project. I was left pondering about a number of aspects. It will be 20 years now that I have been pursuing the issue of better waste management for Mumbai and after pursuing 20 years of idealism and do good-ism still going through some same trials and tribulations and challenges made me ponder about what really is going on.

Here I am sitting with absolute crystal clarity about how to go about the project with a clear idea of how much effort the municipal corporation should be putting in along with creating a budget and hiring the right people et all and all that I get to hear is how one should be twisting and turning the project to avoid back lash from vested interests well entrenched in the corporation who would not like to see waste reduction at source happening or even feel threatened for a perceived change in power structure.

Beyond a point the conversation made me realise how in the same period that I have been stubbornly, consistently and almost foolishly desiring to do good for the cities environment (through SWM being one of them), to achieve multiple goals of

  1. Better utilisation of the tax payers money,
  2. of reduced use of fossil fuels in unnecessarily following a pick and dump method for (mis)managing waste,
  3. of reducing the foreign exchange burden from running trucks on imported fossil fuels,
  4. of reducing congestion on the roads from unnecessary trucks trips,
  5. of reducing air pollution from the movement of the trucks and also the burning of waste on dumping grounds,
  6. off reduced green house gases from all of the above

During this same time there is another set of people whose behaviour has also been very consistent and they have a far greater success rate to show than it seems I ever will. People who may or may not have a desire to do good – to achieve the above goals – but most certainly have a consistent desire to amass more and more power and wealth. This is the politicians of Mumbai. Some of them are MPs, some MLAs, others Councillors with ambitions of becoming MLAs and MPs.

Beyond a point almost everybody on my side of the table has had the same foolish behaviour and faces the same fate.

Any politician who has been associated with the municipal corporation and more specifically with the solid waste management issue since last two decades or more or even a lot less has seen a consistent rise in his career (I cant think of a her) over this time period. Activists and the do-gooders still have the same struggling conversations of how to generate resources for even small pilots. During the same time any counterpart politician has seen himself lord over ever increasing budgets of the municipal corporation, with no shortage of opportunities to create contracts and deals to fill their coffers and be able to generate funds for their rise up the power ladder, from being powerful as a Councillor to MLA to MP. Being able to create the necessary funds and infrastructure to have office and staff and communication and travel and more budgets. All resources that the do-gooders have not been able to ever generate any funds for; you can find them still having the same frustrating conversations about finding one full time person and a desk and a cupboard to store material and of families who are fed up with their pursuits.

Those desirous of being in power do not have to go about begging for funds and donations. They have large hearted people willing to fund them or they have become experts at extracting money at knife point. The same industry or business person, who will torture a do-gooder for making a donation will willingly pay up to a threatening politician. After being in power the politician has access to vast reserves of public money, which is also like the public willing to write a cheque to them.

On the worst affected end of the spectrum you have do-gooders who decided to get into the business end and ended up destroying their wealth completely. None of the politicians and IAS officers and other officials who fudged contracts, lied through their teeth (even in courts on oath), cheated and bribed and worse find themselves in the same fate. They are more powerful and wealthy and even if affected in some cases not destroyed.

Another very consistent behaviour pattern has been of the educated middle class of the city – possibly even more determined than the do-gooders or the politicians, to exhibit almost pathological levels of indifference and complete mastery to justify the same. I am very clear that the behaviour of the middle class creates the base on which politicians build their castles and the do-gooders scuffle around in their shanties.

There will never be a Swaccha Bharat in a country where the atma is so aswaccha. Desiring to do good for the country never pays, desiring to be in power (on the message of doing good) almost certainly does. Please do leave in the comments section all your wonderful excuses of being so pathologically indifferent and uninvolved.

More options emerge for the Line 3 metro car shed

In continuation of finding means to mitigate the effects or shift the Line 3 Metro car shed being planned in Aarey Milk Colony some of us in Save Aarey and senior members of BJP had a good meeting at MMRDA on 9th December with the officials in-charge of the Metro project.

Besides the usual discussion about lessening the number of trees to be cut by doing changes in alignment or shifting the plot to some nearby options the more interesting new information was that other land parcels were considered for situating the car shed had been considered in the early stages of the project but when they could not be obtained then Aarey was finalised. By the end of the meeting there was enthusiasm and hope that possibly one of the other options could still be revived.

The two options were

1) Within the Kalina Campus of the University of Mumbai, which has a total area of about 120ha and most of which is unutilised. The University management completely refused to entertain any possibility since they have a Masterplan for utilising the land but were held back for want of funds. MMRDA can possibly invest considerably in the development of UoM in lieu of land for the Metro car shed and even provide a station there for its students.

2) Reclaiming land at the Colaba end of the Line 3.

From what I saw on Google Earth the Kalina land seems a bit difficult and so I will below comment on the Colaba option.

Between the plot considered at Aarey and the Colaba coast the ecological value of the Aarey plot is far higher than the sea to be reclaimed at Aarey. Aarey’s air pollution mitigation, flood mitigation and general scenic relief to thousands of people is huge compared to the sea at Colaba. I say this as someone who was played one of the strongest roles in conservation along the coast. I have also been most vocal in the past decade on the enormous flaws in the way the CRZ notification is framed and implemented. As is quite symptomatic with us we tend to miss the big picture completely with most of our policies and legislation. Where violations to CRZ are in a nature of private profit nothing stops from it being violated as can be seen in many instances (can be discussed separately).

While CRZ and opposition of environmentalists to reclamation will be cited as a reason for not considering Colaba for a car shed, we see that CRZ seems to be no hurdle for the coast road project, which in terms of damage to the environment is far more significant and is facing enormous opposition not just on environmental grounds but more fundamentally as not being a sound solution to solve traffic congestion in Mumbai.  And at a massive cost of Rs. 8000 crores at that and agreed upon in a most undemocratic manner.

So in short it makes perfect sense to reclaim some land at Colaba for the car shed. The images below need to be referred.

The Yellow Plot is 10 acres (4ha)

This plot already exists and can be used for the ramps to emerge from underground.

The Green Plot is 54 acres (21ha)

This plot is currently covered with bustling slums, the Backbay Bus depot and mangroves on the edges. The slums are in a pretty bad condition and could do with a proper scheme to provide better housing on the same locations. Some images from the slums there at the end of the post.

The Maroon Plot is 84 acres (34 acres)

This plot is the best option for the car shed because in the green option there will be issues with rehabilitating the slums. On the sea ward edge is the remnant of the last attempt at reclamation. Most of the land in this area including the World Trade Center, Cuffe Parade and Navy Nagar are all built on reclaimed land. The sea in the maroon plot is not harbouring some greater ecological value compared to the Aarey plot. The area is already protected by the sea wall on one side. If global warming or sea level rise or tsunami will be a threat it will be to the whole city and not the metro alone.

Now keeping the above in mind we quickly need to have widespread discussions in the city to discuss between Aarey and Colaba Reclamation (with some room for Kalina as well) and close the matter.

State of the slums in the Green Plot show above


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,960 other followers