It was housefull, and not a seat in sight either in the stalls or balcony, just metaphorically speaking, on Tuesday evening at the Walchand Hirachand Hall in the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) building at Churchgate. The IMC played host to an interactive session to the men who matter to Mumbai. The panel discussion, was ‘Mumbai's Infrastructure, What is needed?’ and the speakers were, Ajoy Mehta, Municipal Commissioner, BMC as it is colloquially known or MCGM, Ashwini Bhide, Managing Director, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) and UPS Madan, Commissioner, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
The Mumbai Metro gleams as the Mumbaikar dreams
The hot button topic in Maximum City is infrastructure, which explains the frisson of excitement in the Hall, as the trio walked in, albeit a little late, just as the audience shifted restively.
Ashwini Bhide, Ajoy Mehta, UPS Madan
After brief introductions, the panel discussion got off to a start with the audience given a small map of the proposed route for the Mumbai Metro III project. Even as the audience was glancing at it, Bhide stated, “The Mumbai Metro III is the city’s most ambitious project to date. Till some time ago, it was Mumbai’s robust public transport system, especially its Railway network, which gave the city a competitive edge. Over time, this system got over saturated. We saw the edge dimmed because of this. Now, the best possible way to enhance the transport is by the Mumbai Metro plan.”
Bhide cited the success of the first Metro corridor, which has cut commute time from 70 minutes to 17, and that earned her a smattering of applause. The Metro III right from Cuffe Parade, in South Mumbai to the Aarey Milk Colony, “has a cost of R 23,000 crore,” Bhide stated, as the speaker quite literally reached dizzying heights. “Yet, funds are not a problem, what has delayed the start, since 2011, is so many different opinions. My team is committed now to finish this project within five years,” the lady in the cool, lime green sari ended on a rousing note.
For MMRDA’s UPS Madan, who took the mike after Bhide, it was time to talk about various improvements made to the rail service, “new rakes, new tracks, from nine-car, we now have 12 to 15 car trains, but we saw through the years that we needed more of a comfort factor, in our commuting.” One could see empathetic nods all around. Madan added, “So, the Metro is a panacea to the discomfort.” Madan added that first, it was thought that after completing one Metro corridor, another would be built, but, that meant slowing down the project considerably and now, “we need to run the construction simultaneously, as time is of the essence.” Madan touched upon the Monorail, admitting that Phase I, has gone through “areas that are not too crowded, but the all important Phase II from Jacob Circle to Wadala, will go through much more congested areas.” Touching upon the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), he stated to some laughs, “We are not fooling you, it is going to happen,” and said that right now, projects are piecemeal but the city, “will feel the full benefits of changes, when all arms are completed, like a complete Metro network for instance,” finished the man in the maroon turban.
Then, of course, it was the turn for the man “with the maximum headaches” as he was introduced, BMC chief, Ajoy Mehta, and first up, because the BMC is the favourite whipping boy of the citizens, Mehta stated, “the BMC is one of the most efficient in the country. Like, in every workplace, you have people who do not work as much as others, but overall, it funtions very well,” he explained. Mehta was brilliant and succinct, he reminded the audience that the topic of the seminar was, “Infrastructure: What does Mumbai need?” Breaking up his address into four points he said, “First, we need infrastructure that facilitates employment. Second, with employment, you need housing. Third, we have to ensure quality of life, which means open spaces, entertainment avenues, schools etc. and finally. infrastructure means social equity. Today, we have 17 per cent women in the work force in this city. This cannot go on, more women need to be in the work force, and we also have to make our infra more disabled-compliant to see that every individual contributes to the growth of the city.” Even as the laser sharp analysis ended, Mehta got loud applause when he stated that environment and infrastructure were not opposed but must go together, “it is not houses vs. mangroves, for me.” Signing off, Mehta had one more arrow which hits bulls eye with his audience. “We are moving towards scientific processing of garbage. Waste has to have value and we have currently not been disposing it of in the right way.”
As the hour ticked by, there was an interactive session and it showed a healthy spirit of questioning. Overall, though one could discern some cheer, amongst the audience. Can we afford to be bullish on Mumbai? Sometimes, a little bull maybe, the skeptics may have thought, but definitely more bullish than bull. Get a move on, Mumbai.