Our bad air quality and Indo-Pak relations and what it says about us?

I got out of office earlier. In the day ending light conditions I could manage to see the horrible haze in Andheri at around 6pm on the New Link Road housing Infinity mall. I guess it must be the same around the city. Had I been travelling an hour later a dark skyline would have hidden the haze.

It was a repulsive sight raising concerns about the impact on collective health and our priorities. I was in a taxi on a call I could not keep aside and hence did not stop to take the photos.

Shamelessly opportunistic thoughts came to my mind riding on a recent big talking point in our country. I began linking the recent Shiv Sena misbehaviour with Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni and the high security having to be provided to Mr. Kasuri and the event around his book release.

I wish Mr. Fadnavis and others would take a “principled stand” on air pollution and public health. I which this could become as big a talking point as Indo-Pakistan ties, disturbance in which hardly takes any lives as compared to bad air.

Its great to have good relations between India and Pakistan but far more important is to ponder why citizens in both countries are not concerned about the most basic of issues affecting them and demanding better services from their governments? What does it say? And in the indifferent situation when people do speak and take interest what issue(s) is it?

Earlier in the year I highlighted the horrible way in which the resurfacing of Marine Drive was taking place raising criminal amounts of dust and it covered very prominently in the Times of India. I used the occasion to highlight the need for an overall work area management policy in all road infrastructure projects and buildings demolitions and constructions. It is a subject I have been raising concern over forever having written on other occasions on my blog.

I have stopped expecting any body – individual or institution – to read those kind of news reports and get in touch to support in any way or at the bare minimum such reports or videos or images to become a great talking point in the city like the recent fracas. I took a number of shocking videos of the resurfacing and the number of views it got are there to see.

Not to forget half a dozen other interventions to improve air quality beginning with improved public transport.

Far more people are dying from bad air than with any violence with Pakistan. Cardiovascular diseases have a strong linkage with air quality and lung conditions. Which means that a lot of deaths being registered as cardio vascular failure have been exasperated due to air pollution leading to mortality. But that can never become a talking point. Sena speared oil paint on Mr. Kulkarni and air pollution smears far more tar and other toxics on the lungs of millions. I wonder whether Mr. Udhav Thackeray is ever concerned about the state of the lungs of Mumbai’s citizens and the condition of which can be linked to the kind of decisions his party takes in the municipal corporation.

Where should be the focus of intellectuals and activists and concerned citizens?

In the end it does say something about how to garner public attention towards attaining political power. It is because people give a damn to real issues or have become too numb that there is a need to have such fracas and stunts. Talking sense on important public issues in straight forward ways never got any any body any where.

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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

Dust in BKC, MMRDA’s paranoia, stupid rules and feudal high handedness in ‘smart’ BKC

Crazy dust levels are a bane in Mumbai, posing severe health hazards besides making the city look no different from the situation in villages and Tier 2 and 3 cities and robbing it of sophistication. This post is about the ridiculous way construction sites are running in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), the pride of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and completely governed by them. There is absolute violation of all environmental rules about dust management and how construction sites should operate. Rules and techniques are clearly there to have zero dust around construction sites as I have recorded in photos from Hong Kong in the second part of this post. It is interesting to see how the who’s who and so educated of BKC go about seeing this on a daily basis and do nothing.

Earlier in the year Mumbai Mirror had carried a story Somebody call Bob the builder! on the same subject and I was quoted as under

Mass transport expert and environment activist Rishi Aggarwal says it’s just callousness on the part of various agencies that leads to the kind of mess that Mumbai finds itself today. “There is never going to be a point where a city is done with all development work. But does that mean we will have to put up with this chaos forever? The way out is strict enforcement of norms,” he said.

Today I was invited to give a byte for a video film on Mithi and asked to come to Bandra Kurla Complex. Similarly invited was my friend and free lance journalist Nidhi Jamwal and since we stay close by I joined her in her car. Since we reached a bit early we decided to move around and get the Sunday feel of BKC.

Along the way Nidhi had her first look at the pathetic cycling tracks launched with much fanfare by MMRDA three years back and photographed them. But that is a separate topic of discussion.

Moving towards the Mithi we passed the point on the map shown as BKC 1 where we passed the first dust site and I took photos with a bit of caution because I had already seen the security stir up even seeing the car stop. Moving ahead we came to the road behind the Dhirubhai Ambani School. It is an isolated stretch with very less traffic and here I again saw a large amount of dust and truck trails on the road. This time I was annoyed and decided to get down and record this properly.

Even as I had just started taking the photos a jeep came in from the opposite side filled with 5-6 men. The jeep stopped by our car and the  men started jumping out and rushing in typical intimidating style. They asked me to immediately stop taking photos since photography was strictly prohibited in the area. At this point I got aggressive and asked them who were they and who has made the rules to which they answered that they were security kept by MMRDA  and it is them who has made the rule. Any point about the dust etc. was lost on them as was my shouting that I will be showing these pictures to the Metropolitan Commissioner tomorrow. I decided to call up Mr. Dilip Kawathkar MMRDAs Joint Project Director who confirmed that yes there was a prohibition on taking photos and permissions have to be taken from a certain Mr. Wankhede who I presume is the person mentioned here and here

This is bizarre and nothing short of feudal. This is a public property and the streets can certainly not be part of a photography prohibition. As a citizen activist I am continuously taking photos of the governments negligence in providing even the most basic of infrastructure and amenities to the citizens. This helps in redresal. Now even photos cant be taken?! Dereliction of duty in the first place and intimidation if documenting it.

And then you see these kind of cheesy stories on Smart BKC? Hong Kong also has rapacious capitalists but they have some interest in a clean and well managed HK.

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/bkc-is-mumbais-new-smart-address-says-boman-rustom-irani/articleshow/42324892.cms

Or these pies in the sky – talking cake when people dont have bread.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/MMRDA-to-tap-tech-for-smart-BKC/articleshow/33625023.cms

Firstly the way the men were traveling and the intimidating manner in which they approached me is completely unbecoming of how an agency like MMRDA should be keeping security people for any purpose. They looked more like the goons and henchmen kept by illegal mining barons or like some militia of the kind of ISIS images we are seeing on TV. Knowing the land politics of BKC and the politicians-developer nexus which controls it, it is quite clear that institutions are just a nice front to show behind which feudal diktats and controls operate.

Secondly,what is this nonsense about not photographing even on the roads? In July I was hauled up by the ultra-paranoid security at the US Consulate even as I was standing on the footpath outside their building and photographing the diamond bourse with the upcoming convention center in the foreground. Nothing to do with the consulate, nor were they in the frame anywhere but still I was brought in by the security, made to sit for an hour while procedure and deletion of photos took place.

In 2012 I visited Hong Kong for the first time and took photos of the West Kowloon Terminus from a nearby skywalk, which I have carried subsequently in this post. Not once was I stopped, there just was no intimidation in the air. I could see police and guards at some frequency but their job was not to intimidate common citizens. The Peoples Republic of China was not paranoid in spite of being an autocracy and here we have MMRDA – quite symptomatic of the bogus two paisa democracy that India is. This is of course the private estate of some of the best known politicians and builders in the city.

I will stand vindicated when the next big terrorist attack takes place successfully at BKC in spite of all this ridiculous paranoia, intimidation and assault on liberty. As I keep mentioning to all these people that those who will do the damage will have the best of images taken without these jokers even getting a whiff. Of course the innocent will suffer with no effect on these jokers but then did somebody say something about how evil benefits from the silence of the good?

Thirdly, anybody interested in labour rights and the conditions of construction workers need not be holding up for whats happening in Qatar

Woes of India’s Labour in Gulf

Sushma Swaraj vows to work for migrant Indian workers in Gulf nations

Sushma Swaraj could well come and champion for the rights of those who are working at the sites in BKC and especially the large one near the concrete plant marked as BKC 3 in the map below.

Labour could be seen living and working in the most unhygienic and completely unpleasant surroundings. Forget getting into private areas, BKC is completely under MMRDA and consequently Government of Maharashtra jurisdiction. I this the commitment to the various conventions and policies that GoM is party to? We were moving around in an AC car so we are unaffected but the moment you step out is hell.

This is how they do it in Hong Kong. This is the site of West Kowloon Terminus which I visited in March 2012. This a government of China project contracted to private engineering firms. The highest work area management standards could be seen as borne in pictures below.

Take the issue up and make noise about work area management rules at all construction sites. Making Mumbai dust free is possible if only citizens are interested in such an outcome.

And if you can take some more