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State must pull up BMC to save city

A few years ago, the then Chief Minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh raised a storm in political circles when he described the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) Standing Committee as an ‘understanding committee’.

The Standing Committee is the most powerful statutory committee in the BMC and the former CM’s suggestive comments alluded to the political understanding between different political parties when it comes to approval of big-ticket civic projects in the city. Deshmukh, however, had refrained from commenting on the understanding between the state government and the BMC, which by all means has hindered the progress of the city.

The civic body, which plays a pivotal role in managing the city, was scheduled to meet with a state coordination committee today. But it has now been postponed.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan who heads the urban development department was expected to discuss more than 30 issues plaguing the city with the civic body. Although such meetings are supposed to be held at regular intervals, not a single meeting has taken place since Chavan took over in November 2010.

The meeting was crucial, what with the increasing number of potholes on city roads and the recent uproar over missing files pertaining to permissions for buildings. Many expected some harsh words from the CM over the state of affairs in the civic body, which oversees the approximately 437 sq kms of area that is divided by the state government into two districts -- Mumbai city and Mumbai suburbs.

At a time when the city needs a fruitful understanding between political parties at the helm, this coordination meeting was hence essential.

While the Congress CM runs the state government, it’s left to the Shiv Sena to manage the city with the support of the BJP. The state, however, controls the BMC through six IAS officers, of which one is deputed as the municipal commissioner, four as additional commissioners and one as the general manager of BEST. But the Congress over the years has rarely questioned the performance of its officers deputed to manage the city through 1.2 lakh civic employees.

The Congress-NCP government has always shirked its responsibility by blaming the Sena and BJP. But it can always rein in the civic body through its IAS officers. But it sheer misfortune for the city that Congress has been turning a blind eye towards the mismanagement in the BMC, for obvious political reasons.

No one knows about the field visits to parts of the city by the IAS ranking additional municipal commissioners (AMC) to understand the issues faced by taxpaying citizens. Nobody knows when the AMC, in charge of the eastern or western suburbs, is available at his jurisdiction.

With the bosses sitting in the southern part of the metropolis, it’s mostly left to their subordinates to look after the city. So the proliferating slums, road encroachments, bad roads, and inadequate water supply should come as no surprise. It could be due to such reasons that thousands of crucial files relating to building permissions are missing from civic offices.

The CM may not have taken time off to chair the coordination committee meeting in the last two-and-a-half years. But he has had several meetings with the Shiv Sena party chief Uddhav Thackeray, whose word is final for his party Mayor, the Standing Committee chief and corporators.

It’s high time that the decision makers at Mantralaya and the BMC pull up their socks and ensure that the city, which is on the verge of collapse, is resurrected.

Any word on the bifurcation of the workload of the BMC into two or more civic bodies may invite the wrath of the political class. But to banish the allegations of political understanding, the Congress government should take the BMC to task for the mess. The prestige of the city, once hailed as the financial capital and economic powerhouse of the nation, is at stake.

-- The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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