A common refrain during legislative sessions held in the city, is that the houses don’t discuss much about Mumbai, even when the city elects 36 MLAs and has almost a dozen representatives in the Upper House. The ongoing session isn’t much different as far as debating the city’s issues is concerned. The budget presented last week didn’t have much for the city. CM Devendra Fadnavis’ explanation is that, unlike erstwhile finance ministers, the incumbent Sudhir Mungantiwar did not include the projects undertaken by the Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority (MMRDA). The only notable mention Mungantiwar made was a Rs 100-crore grant for the city’s Metro projects. One may not entirely disagree with Fadnavis’ emphasis on a rural-centric budget rather it is need of the hour in view of the collapsing rural economy and acute agrarian crisis. But Mumbai’s hapless junta, too, wishes that the maai-baap sarkar not leave it in the lurch.
The city did feature in some discussions in the houses, but it happened in bits and pieces, and that didn’t suffice for major policy decisions to come through. The city is plagued with poor infrastructure; crimes against women are on the rise; public transport and basic civic amenities are inadequate... the list just goes on.
What we need is a vision, planning and, most importantly, committed financial support from the state and Centre. The city’s key projects would need at least R10 lakh crore in the years to come. Some of these projects are: Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (Rs 11,000 crore), the coastal road between south and north Mumbai (Rs 8,500 crore), Metro Line II expansion between Dahisar and Mankhurd via Charkop and Bandra (Rs 25,605 crore), Metro Line III between Colaba and Seepz (Rs 23,000 crore), Ghatkopar-Thane-Kasarvadavali Metro corridor (R19,097 crore) and Navi Mumbai international airport (Rs 18,000 crore). A multinational management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, has observed that Mumbai Metropolitan Region is a $250-billion economy and the government will have to act fast to exploit its potential.
Fadnavis has unveiled his plan for the city; his Mumbai Next mission, to be implemented in association with an NGO Mumbai First, kicked off a month ago. He has assured financial support and faster clearances for several important and delayed projects in the city in the past four months. We expect him to make good on his announcements in the remaining period of the Budget session. He needs to tell us firmly as to how MMRDA, the city’s cash-cow planning authority, would function under his leadership, especially because MMRDA’s role has been questioned frequently. The opposition has demanded a white paper on MMRDA’s working. The demand for a white paper could be seen as NCP’s political move to corner the Congress, which controlled MMRDA in the past 15 years. But the notion that one of the richest bodies in the state has not been right in everything it did isn’t completely unfounded. Mumbaikars would certainly welcome findings on MMRDA, and participate actively in planning properly for the city, if the political bosses are willing to allow their viewpoints.
Other than MMRDA, the legislature should make serious efforts to discipline the BMC, which is even more responsible for the mess we live in. Sadly, attempts made in this direction in the past were not entirely successful because they were either political or lacked teeth. And if Fadnavis dares to check where and how the BMC spends taxpayers’ money, the Sena will accuse him of encroaching upon the civic body’s freedom. But does this ‘freedom’ mean a licence to splurge, cheat, and proliferate corruption?
The city’s lawmakers may have yet another chance a full-fledged one if they get to table a motion to debate the city as a whole. In that case, we should expect them to force the government to announce substantial schemes for the state capital. Merely dissecting the woes and politicising them won’t help. The BJP and Shiv Sena together have a massive strength, but since they work as separate units, the opposition will again politicise basic demands of the city. Let’s hope that the debates revolve around genuine issues, and not just FSI, TDR and vested interests of some individuals and companies.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day