Mumbai has a new municipal commissioner. Sitaram Kunte, known in bureaucratic and political circles as an upright officer, will take on the onerous task of handling one of the richest municipal corporations in the world — with an annual budget of more than Rs 26,000 crore.
He has the credentials, though. He is currently the principal secretary, planning, in the state government. He was earlier secretary, housing, and principal secretary, energy. The IAS officer has a brilliant academic record — a post-graduate degree from the prestigious Delhi School of Economics, a law degree from Mumbai University, in addition to diplomas in public policy from two international universities. He is an acknowledged expert in public policy with specialisations in urban development, housing and public administration.
But it is one of his most important contributions to public policy — the Maharashtra Ownership of Flats Act — a key legislation in housing reforms in the state that will stand him in good stead as the city’s commissioner. The real estate sector, after all, is in such deep crisis that developers are unable to erect buildings, and buyers are unable to afford flats. This dichotomy has created, what many call, a bubble that could burst any time and make builders go bankrupt.
There are other challenges, too. Mumbai’s monsoon drainage system is far from perfect, and this city is yet to get over the trauma of July 26, 2005. Kunte will have to reassure Mumbai on this front.
A related concern: potholed roads. The BMC spends upwards of Rs 60 crore every year on repairing potholed roads, but with hardly any talk-worthy results. Water supply is another area where the BMC has not done much, notwithstanding the burgeoning population. Official statistics themselves indicate that 20 percent of water is wasted due to leakage, pilferage and inefficient distribution.
However, the biggest challenge facing Kunte is to ensure a clean and efficient administration, the holy grail of Mumbai’s civic bureaucracy. Outgoing commissioner Subodh Kumar initiated that process. Kunte would have to deliver it.