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How (not) to save the city

Not many Mumbaikars know that a very important event that took place in their city last week, which could well have been the first step towards resolving many of the problems that plague the city they love. It was a conference on the challenges faced by Mumbai as a mega city. Organised jointly by the state government, the European Union and Bombay First, it was held on November 18-19. The conference was important in many ways, especially for a city that is on the brink of total collapse, thanks to unplanned development and chaos in almost all spheres — traffic management, real estate, safety of life and property, quality of life and infrastructure development.

Mayors and representatives of 35 cities from European nations shared the experiences they have accrued while dealing with major issues that are common in mega cities. The conference was important in view of the MMRDA’s recent decision to prepare a vision plan for the next 40 years for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, which has two-crore inhabitants. It also comes at a time when the city is debating over three most crucial issues — illegal constructions, encroachments and the safety of its citizens.

Despite an announcement from CM Prithviraj Chavan, union ministers Kamal Nath, Jayanthi Natarajan and Shashi Tharoor were missing in action. So the task fell on the state’s Chief Secretary J K Banthia to represent the government. He offered a few suggestions, such as the appointment of working groups to study and formulate solutions for Mumbai.

But even Mr Banthia knows that such reports are useless in the absence of drastic decisions from the political leadership. But sadly, vote bank politics, coupled with avarice for power and money hoarded by a select class, has dashed any hopes for a better metropolis.

The builders class, hand in hand with the land mafia and with the support of the political and bureaucratic classes, has plunged the city into a complete state of decline. The state government and civic body look the other way, while the builders get away with encroachment and illegal constructions in the city.

As a result, the development plan for Mumbai and discipline in governing the city has mostly remained on paper. The bureaucracy that handles day-to-day affairs of the city is more concerned about its postings, transfers and promotions, and has left it to the political leadership to take a call on major issues concerning the city. It has chosen to be a toothless class that benefits from mutual silence. Without its cooperation, it is impossible to have massive instances of illegal construction, encroachments or road damage. Today, unplanned development and growth has plunged the city in complete chaos. And yet, there is almost no word coming from the urban planners or experts in city management about means to decongest it.

When it is clear that the city cannot add to its existing burden, we talk of projects worth thousands of crores on the pretext of traffic and infrastructure development. Instead, efforts should be taken to create business hubs and wholesale markets in adjoining districts of Thane and Raigad.

The upper and lower middle classes too should accept a part of the blame. When it is time to vote, they take vacations. Those who can afford it get their work done by bribing and pulling strings. In the absence of informed, educated voters, the political parties find it easy to influence the poor and the unlettered, offering them easy sops in exchange for votes.

Till the day such issues are tackled head-on, symposiums and conferences are futile, hypocritical enterprises that will never end in anything concrete.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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