With one eye on the 2012 municipal elections and the other on Congress' rapidly dwindling popularity, Chavan charts five-pronged map for a systemic overhaul. However, pressure of coalition politics could raise its ugly head... again
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Monday outlined his grand vision for Mumbai in an exclusive chat with MiD DAY. Unlike previous chief ministers who compared the city to Shanghai in China, he did not set any benchmark for development, but admitted that the "island city is dying" and "we need to resurrect it very fast or else it will be too late."
The Mumbai municipal (BMC) elections are likely to be held in February 2012, and this could be seen as the first salvo from Congress to wrest India's richest civic body from the Shiv Sena. However, the pressure of coalition politics could undermine the growth targets, top sources in the state government told MiD DAY. "It has to be the government's vision, not just the chief minister's vision," a source said. "Unlike Gujarat, where Narendra Modi has been able to execute his vision because of single-party rule, Chavan's hands are tied in Maharashtra."
Nevertheless, Chavan charted a five-pronged strategy to achieve his goals -- public transportation, housing, roads, water and transparency in governance. "I am not going to appoint a supremo for this task, but I would expect the Mumbai municipal commissioner to oversee the progress and take charge of the execution," he said.
The state government's announcement on the implementation date for the new, yet controversial, Development Control Regulations which would put severe restrictions on builders as well as make the process transparent for home buyers. He also expects the new housing regulatory body to make it easy for citizens to purchase houses without having to bribe anyone or get duped by unscrupulous builders.
"For years, builders in Mumbai and the rest of the state have been cheating the public over the carpet area by charging them for built-up and super built-up area. Under the new DCR rules, we will do away with the super built-up concept. This will ease a lot of pain for buyers."
Chavan is aware that these new rules may not bring down real estate prices in the market. "I cannot control the demand and supply forces," he said, "but if we do not bring in systemic changes in the real estate sector, we will face a severe situation where Mumbai will get skilled migrants from across the country to build upon the already successful service industry, but they will have no place to stay because they just can't afford to either buy or rent a house."
It is evident that Chavan, who completes one year in office in November, has seemingly understood the pulse of the state capital, for, his next big target in the grand vision is Mumbai's roads. "I have already appointed a top Swiss certification firm, SGS, to inspect Mumbai's roads and compare them with the rest of the world's top cities. We shall now have a transparent way of looking at the quality of our roads."
He says he has already instructed the municipal commissioner to look at the tendering and contracting process for road building and maintenance. "How come the same contractors get the contract year after year? Clearly there are monetary considerations involved at various levels. I want to change all that."
Chavan says he even approached the big infrastructure companies such as L&T and other big Indian multinationals, but they have not shown much enthusiasm given the relatively small scale of the projects. "Which is why we end up getting the same contractors each year," he said. "If we bring in transparency and initiate big projects, perhaps we can attract these MNCs to participate in Mumbai's growth."
Even if the chief minister initiates these projects despite objections from various pressure groups and lobbies, it is his transparency in governance scheme that could face the biggest hurdle. For instance, possibly the CM's biggest statewide project is the computerisation of all land records across the state, a scheme that has been hanging fire for so many years that it could well have been forgotten.
"I am confident that we will do it in five years," Chavan said. "The state needs five years and possibly hundreds of crores to get this done. Let's remember that we now have the technologies such as GPS and GRS to get this done quickly. It can be realistically achieved."
One of the first transparency modules to be implemented will save money for the government to be diverted to other schemes. Chavan calculates, in one instance, that the individual districts have 20 per cent bogus records about the number of teachers and the number of students. "The state loses hundreds of crores because of incorrect record of the number of teachers, and a huge amount of money is siphoned off under the state midday meal scheme because of fake student records." Chavan said he will begin the new registration of teachers with Nanded district.
Water and public transportation are two of his other targets. While water is more or less under control because of a heavy monsoon, he says he will have to implement new technologies to ensure regular water supply to Mumbaikars. "I am confident about water, but I have to depend on central agencies, too, to come up with an integrated public transport system. It's possible, though."
Chavan may have a grand vision for the city and the state, but he just cannot ignore his "coalition dharma". It is here that he could stumble, as he has often in the past. But if he does make it past, he could well have made history. Of a political kind, that is.
'I was asked to clear the mess'
"When I was asked to take over the reins as the Chief Minister in Maharashtra, I had a clear-cut agenda before me - to clear the mess here," said Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, in course of an absorbing conversation with MiD DAY.
"I want to bring about systemic change," said the CM, adding, "no matter what odds the naysayers point out, and the so-called whisper campaigns notwithstanding, I will continue in this post and make good on my plans."
Even though Chavan's policy moves - which include imposing a measure of control on the builders' lobby, introducing an e-tendering process, scrapping two major SRA projects - have not been read as foolproof enough to ensure an era of transparency, Chavan insisted that he would be a "trendsetter" in every sphere that he touches.
He also admitted to the presence of some non-performers in the cabinet, saying, "We face certain limitations, as the Congress believes in maintaining a social and regional balance in its representation. But I will do my best to resurrect the image of the party, which has taken a beating after Hazare's agitation."
State to sign 21 mous for projects
Refusing to accept criticism that the state was incurring losses in sectors like investment, industry and infrastructure, Chavan told MiD DAY that soon, 21 MoUs for would be signed for mega projects in the state. Asked why the Tatas had chosen Gujarat as the new home for its Nano project, and not Maharashtra, he said, "Industrialists consider many factors before making an investment, such as location and availability of facilities and space. Pune, which is one of the possible industrial centres for such a project, suffers lacks due to unavailability of space and over-development. They may have preferred Sanand in Gujarat because of its connectivity to the port. Moreover, you cannot compare the government in Gujarat with that in Maharashtra. Our state suffers owing to constraints placed upon it by coalition politics. We need a consensus before making a decision."
CM's Five Targets
Transportation: A fully integrated public transport plan to ease city's commuting woes
Housing: Strict implementation of new DCR rules that will, among other things, force builders to sell flats using carpet area and not built-up area as price parameter
Roads: Appointed a top Swiss certification firm named SGS to inspect Mumbai roads based on world standards; instituted a transparent tendering process that does not favour existing contractors
Water: Decadal growth in Mumbai's population is slow, but demand for water is increasing. Plans to bring in state-of-the-art water treatment technology
Transparency in Governance: A five-year statewide project, starting with computerising land records of Mumbai and the rest of the state
The number of cars added to
Mumbai roads every year
The total number of public hospitals in Mumbai
4.5 lakh m
The total length of nullahs in the city
The total number of buses in the BEST fleet
Mumbai's total road length
Number of service reservoirs storing water for Mumbai