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Bridge the communication gap

Sachin KalbagWho exactly is in charge of Mumbai’s roads, highways and flyovers? Chances are that the average Mumbaikar would respond: the BMC. The truth is that Mumbai’s surface transport is handled by three different agencies: the BMC, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Public Works Department (PWD).

One of the reasons that Mumbai’s roads are in a state they are is mainly because of this multiplicity of agency and that every single one of them works at cross purposes. The “regular” roads, lanes and bylanes are built and looked after by the BMC; the flyovers are built and maintained by the MMRDA and the intra-city highways - the Western and Eastern Express Highways - are built and maintained by the PWD.

Pothole
The sheer lack of coordination between the BMC, MMRDA and PWD is enough to drive a Mumbaikar up the wall. Or down a 10-inch pothole

Even if we ignore the massive corruption in road-building in Mumbai (something that prompted the chief minister to recommend the suspension of road contractors last year), the sheer confusion and coordination (the lack of it, that is) between the three organisations is enough to drive a Mumbaikar up the wall. Or down a 10-inch pothole.

If you travel to Powai via the picturesque Aarey Colony Road adjacent to the Western Express Highway at Goregaon, for instance, you will realise the farce that is Mumbai’s surface transport. It is the perfect intersection of two BMC roads, one MMRDA flyover, and of course, the highway.

When driving north from Andheri, take a left to head at the same junction towards Goregaon railway station. That intersection between PWD’s highway and BMC’s road is at a steep angle of close to 30 degrees. No one talked to each other and as a result, vehicles stuck there are in perennial suspended animation. The other side of the road takes you to Powai, among other areas. The road there is a tribute to the meteors that keep hitting the moon and creating thousands of craters on the surface of our sole satellite.

The MMRDA flyover, on the other hand, is in competition with the BMC road over the number of potholes per square metre. When one agency does not talk to the other even on the simple matter of how to join two roads, how can you expect Mumbai’s roads to be world-class? For that matter, even motorable?

On September 11, 2001, in a series of coordinated terror attacks, close to 3,000 Americans lost their lives in New York and Washington, DC. Until then, most of the internal and external security agencies worked in isolation. Soon after 9/11, the US President created a new Department of Homeland Security, a mother agency responsible for eight other agencies, including the US Coast Guard and the US Secret Service.

Only the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency were left out. Even there, to encourage communication and facilitate exchange of information between the two key agencies, the US government created what are called Fusion Centres. Today, there are 72 such centres in the US.

The result? Not a single external terror-related death in the United States since September 2001. How difficult is it really to create a single agency that has the power to keep the BMC, the MMRDA and the PWD in check? Or, at the very least, to even talk to each other so that roads do not get jeopardised? That is unlikely to happen, because rent-seeking bureaucrats, politicians and contractors feed off each others’ unscrupulousness.

This is not a cynical view; it is realistic. Take Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s bold announcement in late 2011 that he would order a comprehensive audit of the city’s roads. Close to 16 months after the announcement, there is hardly any policy announcement to even hint at the government’s intention to improve Mumbai’s roads. On September 19, 2011, he had told this newspaper: “How come the same (road) contractors get the contract year after year? Clearly there are monetary considerations involved at various levels. I want to change all that.”

But the BMC’s perfidy knows no bounds. Earlier this week, it blacklisted certain sewerage and civil works contractors. The next day, another controversial civil works firm, RPS Infrastructure, which is under investigation for fraud, was handed a multicrore project. The real reason that none of the three agencies wants to report to a nodal organisation is precisely this - that their ability to make money on the side will be severely curtailed, or at least, divided. And who would want to part with that kind of money?

Sachin Kalbag is Executive Editor, MiD DAY. He tweets at @SachinKalbag 

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