Can CM keep city's soul alive?

Mumbai’s Shanghai dream is over, thanks to CM Devendra Fadnavis, who wants the metr-opolis to remain ‘Mumbai’, with its soul intact, even as it develops into a global financial hub. He wants the city to regain its once-famous tag of one of the world’s best cities the place we would vouch for, not very long ago, for its vibrancy, diversity, people who worked hard and partied harder, and the promise it held for professionals who aspired to make it big.

The CM’s vision for Mumbai has a lot to do with aspirations young people like him have. I remember him speaking of his visits to the city when his father was a legislator. He would stay in his father’s room in the Majestic MLA Hostel near Regal Cinema. Discussing the Mumbai magic with his peers in hometown Nagpur would be inevitable, he said.

“There was a time when people said their cities should also be like Mumbai. They thought this city was the best in the world,” he told me last week after launching Mumbai Next, his refined version of Mumbai’s makeover. “We did not add anything to the city in the past 15 years… We don’t want to make it Shanghai, but retain Mumbai’s original identity to keep its soul intact...” he said.

Mumbaikars will definitely welcome the CM’s approach, which is different than his predecessors’. But they will also have apprehensions because of policy flip-flops, bad planning, and poor execution of projects till now. The city’s major grievance is that policymakers do not ask citizens what they want. People want selfish stakeholders to stop exploiting the city’s riches. Significantly, the BJP had been shouting foul from the opposition benches when it came to the nexus between the govt and specific stakeholders. The party must bear in mind that people have voted for change.

Let’s hope Fadnavis has given a serious thought to these crucial aspects while doing his homework for Mumbai’s makeover. Fifteen years in the opposition have given him deep insights into the rights and wrongs of policy-making. Now, it is up to him to correct faults, plan diligently, and complete projects on time, factoring in Mumbai’s changing nature and subsequent needs. To fast-track projects, he needs to control all agencies working in the city. Beginning his mission on a positive note, Fadnavis has set up a cell in his Mantralaya office to monitor Mumbai’s key projects. He has even thought of having PM Narendra Modi head the committee for fast-tracking Mumbai’s mega projects. The idea, which faced opposition from the Cong-NCP and the Shiv Sena, is awaiting Modi’s approval.

Meanwhile, the city should expect Fadnavis to keep slow-moving city agencies on a leash and integrate them on common issues. Our roads, flyovers, pavements, seafronts are looked after by multiple agencies. There have been many instances when several agencies worked on the same project, which ultimately remained on paper for decades. The Sewri-Nhava Sheva Trans-Harbour Link and the extended Sea Link are glaring examples. Projects like the elevated rail corridor are stalled.

If Fadnavis is to be believed, raising finance for the city’s projects worth over R1 lakh crore isn’t a major concern. “Japan and China are raring to invest in Mumbai at very low interest rates. The Centre will also help us by way of budgetary allocation,” he said. The World Economic Summit in Davos gave Fadnavis an opportunity to lure majors in finance and service sectors to Mumbai. Unlike past CMs, Fadnavis sees Bollywood as a potent sector for earning huge revenues and generating jobs. The Mumbai Next summit, to be held in association with Mumbai First on February 6, will deliberate on how the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) can be developed to attract these three sectors. Having MMR on his expansion plan makes the CM’s job even more challenging. Haphazard and unruly development here has professional planners baffled.

Slums, storehouses, and concrete towers have mushroomed in violation of town planning rules. The middle-class cannot afford a 1BHK flat before Kalyan-Dombivli on the eastern side and Virar in the west. Rates rates have skyrocketed in Navi Mumbai due to the upcoming airport.

Fadnavis will have to reach a political consensus with ruling partner Sena, which has upped its ante over displacement of people for Metro lines. It has already shot down his idea of a PM-led panel for fast-tracking key projects. Sena will continue to have disagreements, if not consulted in the planning stage. Finally, a lot also depends on how Fadnavis gauges people in the BJP who impact his political career, even as he pushes harder for taking Mumbai to the next level.

Dharmendra Jore is Political Editor, mid-day

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