Letter to Chief Minister on MCGM elections 2012

By email and hand delivery

 

Mr. Prithviraj Chavan

Chief Minister

Maharashtra

 

Dear Mr. Chavan,

In the run up to the Mumbai Municipal Elections 2012 there were a series of newspaper coverage about your viewpoints on what needs to be done to improve Mumbai’s infrastructure and make it world class city. I was not impressed and the last one I disagreed with completely and on all accounts. ‘Why Mumbai is Delhi’s poor cousin’.

In this letter I will elaborate on why I disagree with a lot that you have been communicating in the past few days and what you can do (and you can do a lot) to make Mumbai a better city to live in. It is very clear by now that the electorate did not quite agree with what you were communicating for the betterment of Mumbai. Like in other aspects of life, little things matter and decision makers have been neglecting the small investments that are much needed to improve the liveability of Mumbai.

What is hurting Mumbai the most is a crumbing political leadership, devoid of a passion and integrity to make Mumbai better. And in such a situation most money invested will only disappear into a blackhole.

Firstly lets put this notion aside that Mumbai’s infrastructure is ‘only’  crumbling and that absolutely no improvements have been made in the past two terms of the municipal elections or the cities overall existence in the past decade. There have been a number of significant improvements in Mumbai over the past decade.  These improvements are nowhere near what needs to be done and clearly can be done.

More than infrastructure lets start talking about making Mumbai liveable. Too much of big infrastructure talk by politicians and big business people like Mr. Deepak Parekh and his ilk who are supposed to be well meaning for the city makes the public think of graft and whether all of you are on the board of some infrastructure company which is going to undertake these infrastructure projects. You have an image perception of being much cleaner and honest than some of your predecessors and when you also speak the same language then the situation (and the party) seems hopeless.

Most of the solutions needed to make Mumbai liveable do not have insurmountable or difficult barriers and require funds which can be more than easily managed without going to Delhi or donors.

The key mismatch is that decision makers like you and big business are completely out of touch with the needs and desires of what are the real needs of millions of Mumbai’s citizens who do not use the Sea Link and other such planned infrastructure on a daily basis. These people use public transport and walk the streets of Mumbai.

Let me give some improvements

1) On the roads front since that seems to be of big interest, there is an urgent need to resolve very long pending issues on some of the arterial roads of Mumbai. Even if you build the MTHL or the Virar Alibaug corridor, people are not going to over night stop living in Mumbai and go to these new promised lands. People who have lived in Mumbai for decades will continue to do so and you have to improve the top 50 arterial roads in the city. And I need to emphasise here that these road have to be north of the island city because the roads in island city are already very well serviced.

And by roads I do not mean the just the quality and construction of the roads. You will now anyways not have a chance to do that since your party is not in power. Even then as opposition you can play a good and constructive role. Where you can still make a difference is to help clear chronic bottlenecks on roads like S V Road and LBS Marg, which exist from the time these roads were almost like village roads. This can be done through progressive interventions by UDD on the land use and rehabilitation for the occupants. Projects like SCLR are taking forever – and that has been with MMRDA.

Please go and personally have a look at the conditions of the J P Road and Andheri Kurla Road along the Mumbai Metro One corridor. The most horrible conditions exist and it is  only completely indifferent and insensitive political leaders who could have seen the conditions of past three years and not done anything about it. MMRDA under your government tried its best to use the bad conditions on the road to embarrass MCGM rather than show magnanimity and take responsibility for the work conditions around the site.

2) Just building roads is a no-brainer, how we utilise them is the intelligent part, presumably to learn which a lot of ministers including you  and IAS officers are continuously on tours of some of the best managed cities in the world. You can build as many roads but if you are not going to manage them intelligently then it makes me again wonder whether all the big infrastructure talk is just to make a few businesses rich using public money.

MMRDA commissioned consultants to do a Detailed Project Report for BRTS on Western and Eastern Highway in 2008-09. That report was submitted in late 2009 with a lot of details and a positive note on its feasibility. MMRDA is still to give its final comments to the consultants, which means that the report is still not accepted and all the detailed plans gather dust. As per the timelines in the report if the project had started in 2010 it would have been completed by 2013. But MMRDA has not even accepted the report till now. What you do about this will determine the quality of life of millions of people travelling between Dahisar and Bandra and Thane and Sion. As I write this I understand you have made just one more of a standard statement on the BRTS.

I can list a lot more  in this category of using road space better but do not want to make this letter long and you can consult the MMRDA to look into the suggestions a lot of us have made to them in the past decade. Or any and all of us can meet you.

3) I will not even speak about the coast road because that is the most absurd idea in recent times and you will anyways receive a lot of communication against the same.

4) Focussing on the MTHL or the Virar Alibaug infrastructure projects is not going to bring any solace to the existing residents of Greater Mumbai. Navi Mumbai was made with the understanding that the presence of a well planned township in close proximity will relieve pressure and more people will go to stay there. What has happened in the past decade is that more people have come to Mumbai as well as Navi Mumbai. A lot of what has to be done to improve life and infrastructure in Mumbai, has to be done within and that does not find focus with you or the other big industrialists who seem to have a standard quote on Mumbai’s crumbling infrastructure.

What has to be done within?

i) Fast track the improvement of infrastructure and facilities within a 100 meter radius of the top 100 stations of Mumbai on the Suburban Railway Network. You do not need Rs. 1 Lac crores for this from Delhi. 6-7 million people are using the railways stations everyday and it is here that  quality of life in Mumbai is determined in a big way.

 

ii) Make the city friendly for walkers and cyclists. The infrastructure requirements and costs for this are negligible compared to the Rs. 1 lac crore you have indicated for big infrastructure. And all of that can be raised within Mumbai. Will the 50 councillors from Congress who have won this election improve walking and cycling in their wards? The most liveable and best cities in the world are all great for walking and cycling. And this is one of the easiest of things to do compared to relieving traffic (car) congestion and affordable housing.

 

iii)  Do something on the housing front. Again almost completely dependent on the policies of the Congress government. How much longer will you continue to neglect the running of bodies like MHADA and others?  People can see how ministers and members in your party travel in SUVs and live in luxurious houses while even well earning middle class folks cant afford houses in Mumbai.

A lot more can be added but the basic point I am making is that most improvements required to make Mumbai liveable are low cost and policy dependent and not funds dependent.

5) What people want is a government which listens to them and involves them in how their city is developed and governed. MMRDA and Urban Development Department, two important authorities under the Congress government have the worst record on this account. These multi-thousand crore projects do not interest people as much as much the desire to be heard. Is that not what democracy is all about? The multi-thousand crore projects are for the contractors and the engineering companies.

For the past decade many well meaning and committed individuals and organisations have tried to sit with the above mentioned organisations and speak with them for a better Mumbai and alternate more doable ideas for a liveable Mumbai. But they have only been stonewalled. The suggestions and projects these organisations and individuals suggest are not as costly as the projects you support and have a more immediate and better impact in improving the quality of life in the city.

You would like to consider involving civil society organisations in the functioning of these departments. Around the world and in the best cities citizens (even if few) participate actively with the city governments.

6) There is more than enough money Mumbai can generate within the city itself for its development.

i)) Stopping leakages from the most obvious forms of corruption. Be transparent of the moneys being spent. On this account the Mithi Project under your government administered MMRDA is a case in point. The July 26th floods instead of becoming a good opportunity for a genuine restoration of the river became a great opportunity to launch contractor driven civil projects. The quality of the river remains as bad. The money was built on making concrete walls where we could have developed low cost embankments.

ii) The Urban Development Department, which falls completely in your purview drafts better policies for urban management.

 

I will stop this letter here. If you are serious about Mumbai you will appreciate the import of what I have written.

If you have to win the 2017 elections the work has to start now. And if you neglect the little things I wouldn’t be surprised if you get similar results in 2017 elections. People apparently do not have as short a memory as we believe.

Sincerely,

 

Rishi Aggarwal

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