2013's wish list: One step forward, two steps behind

Jan 01, 2014, 10:28 IST | A Correspondent

MiD DAY had asked for a 10-point wish list that Mumbai wanted at the start of 2013; a year later, there is much to be desired

We wanted: Open, green spaces
Mumbai’s green cover is less than 20 per cent of its total area, to say nothing of open spaces. Open spaces are so rare that builders reserve a minuscule part of their plot as a “jogging track” and call it a “luxury amenity”. Or take encroachments inside the National Park. We wish to see more open spaces, and greater green cover and protect existing ones from builders and the BMC.

MiD DAY’s wish list for Mumbai published on January 1, 2013

We got: No green, all grey
No effort has been made to secure the city’s green cover, as encroachments continued and buildings mushroomed owing to lack of action by the administration. The BMC has approximately 3,500 open spaces including the reservations for Recreation Ground, Playground, Parks, Gardens and also open spaces of various departments reserved for schools, buildings etc. Out of these, over 2,000 open spaces are encroached.

We wanted: Pothole-free roads
Ah, our favourite pet peeve. And indeed the single greatest shame for this city with global aspirations. Mumbai has close to 2,000 km of roads, and yet, only a minor percentage of that is world class. Every year, the BMC fills thousands of potholes, and every monsoon, like clockwork, they are back. This year, demand pothole-free roads from the BMC. It is not a luxury; it is your right as a tax-paying citizen. Speak up and we will support you. We, too, shall speak up and ask you to support us.

We got: Same old ‘Hole’ story
Though the BMC has spent nearly Rs 60 crore to repair potholes in the city during the monsoon, nothing concrete has come of it. The repairs were not up to the mark and the potholes are back where they were. According to the BMC, it has filled over 25,000 potholes since January 2013 but Mumbaikars continue to break their backs and vehicles on these craters that inhabit our streets.

We wanted: Zero moral policing
When our political parties and police (the real ones, not the fake moral police) have nothing to offer to its citizens, they do what they like best: stop couples from holding hands, disrupt Valentine’s Day, stop us from partying by enacting so many restrictive laws that even the Taliban would be proud of them, tell us what to do and what not to do, well, you know how it is. This year, we must not only wish but also demand that the moral police lay off. Keep your hands off us.

We got: More moral policing
The Mumbai police department faced mass criticism over Police Commissioner Dr Satyapal Singh’s statement in the wake of the gang-rape of a young photographer by suggesting that people must choose between a “promiscuous culture” that allows public kissing, or a city made safe by “moral policing”. The Men in Khaki have come under fire for raiding bars and restaurants to enforce outdated regulations on drinking and entertainment. They have also faced criticism for targeting couples or single women out late instead of potential sexual predators. In May, the city council proposed banning lingerie-clad mannequins in shops and markets for fear they could encourage sex crime.

We wanted: No refusal by cabs, autos
If 2012 was annus horribilis as far as public transport was concerned, it was only because of taxi and auto rickshaw drivers who took advantage of lack of choice for commuters, harassed them no end with strikes, refusals to ply short distances and even abused them. This year, we stand up to their bullying and demand a safe, guaranteed ride to our destinations. We must not be immune to their problems. Of course, they were true. But we need to reach home, too.

We got: Refusals galore
Despite having a helpline number (1800) since 2011, which helped a few commuters put their grievances forward, the issue at hand continues to be the same as it was in 2012. Commuters being refused by auto and taxi drivers to ferry them to their location is now a routine occurrence, which usually seems to go ignored by most Mumbaikars.

We wanted: Metro and monorails
Mumbai is one of the few world cities that does not have a robust Metro railway. London built one more than a century ago. New York has one of the best in the world. So do Paris, Kuala Lumpur and many other cities. Our railway network is north-south, while the extremely busy East-West corridor has only road transport connections. After almost a decade of planning and execution, will the Metro and Monorails finally see the light of day in 2013? We so wish they would.

We got: Empty promises and missed deadlines
MMRDA at the start of 2013 had claimed that the 11.07-km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar metro line may be operational in 2013 along with the Wadala-Chembur monorail phase but it only remained a promise. Several deadlines were set and conveniently missed.

We wanted: Mumbai cricket rebuilt
Mumbai’s cricket team has won the Ranji Trophy on more occasions than any other cricket association in the land - 39 times. Yet, city cricket is nowhere near good health. Mumbai cricket lovers enter a new year with a prayer on their lips yet again. Several experts feel Dilip Vengsarkar is the best man to lead Mumbai cricket out of the rut. Will he be allowed to do so by the clubs (through their all-important votes) that helped build Mumbai cricket’s citadel is a million-dollar question. After that, Vengsarkar and his team must deliver.

We got: Cricketers not welcome
Last year, we wished former greats like Dilip Vengsarkar were made welcome to administer Mumbai cricket. But Vengsarkar stayed away from contesting the Mumbai Cricket Associations elections in 2013 because he realised he didn’t stand much of a chance. This cannot be good news because the trend of top cricketers made to feel unwelcome continues. Meanwhile, cricketers continue to be treated disrespectfully at the Mumbai Cricket Association. During Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test in November, former India and Mumbai all-rounder Karsan Ghavri, upset about the seating arrangements, vowed never to visit the Wankhede Stadium.

We wanted: Spacious footpaths
One of the best services any local administration can deliver to its residents is a walking-friendly city. Mumbai is not one. Paris is, Sydney is another. So is Washington DC. Not Mumbai, with its encroachments by roadside sellers, slumlords, druggies and even ugly flowerpots (ironically kept to keep encroachers out). In 2013, we demand encroachment-free footpaths. And the administration will have to deliver. And while we are at it, we must ask for bicycle-friendly lanes, too. Once again, not a luxury.

We got: Footpaths are ‘occupied’
Illegal shanties continue to mushroom and hawkers are minting money by usurping our footpaths. The BMC is trying to carry out the ‘Mahatma Gandhi Path Kranti Yojna’, the state government approved scheme, meant to make footpaths free of encroachment, but the city’s footpaths continue to be ‘occupied’ by squatters and hawkers.

We wanted: Safe streets, night life
Long before the horrific gang rape took place in Delhi and jolted the nation, Mumbai has had its share of late-night molestation cases. Even one case of molestation or rape is one case too many. In 2013, we need to reclaim our streets so that we, our families, feel safe to return home even late at night. We need a more vibrant and a safer night life. This city works hard; it deserves to play hard, too. Just like any other great city in the world.

We got: Safety: A distant dream
The authorities have failed to make the city and its streets a safe place for Mumbaikars. Crimes against women, like the gang rape at Shakti Mills compound, the molestation of a girl by a group of men at the Lalbaugcha Raja procession have shocked the city, this year. Though the cops have managed to register immediate FIRs in crimes related to women to some extent, there are still several examples wherein complainants have been passed on from one police station to another for registering their complaints. Crimes against women in local trains have also been on the rise this year.

We wanted: Schools that teach how to learn, not how to get marks
Our schooling is entirely dependent on rote learning. Even if the Right to Education Act, which prohibits exams until Std VIII and only encourages weekly or monthly evaluations and grades, the stress level among our kids is so high that parents do not know how to deal with it. Schools must be encouraged to teach children how to learn and how to be more curious, not how to get more marks. A wiser generation will enhance our social capital like nothing else.

We got: Help is at hand
Taking into consideration the fact that several students face problems coping with challenging subjects like maths, following the implementation of the Right to Education Act, certain concessions have been made in the last one year. For instance, such students will now be provided with ‘shadow teachers’ where the student will be provided with special attention and constant supervision to help him/her learn the subject effectively. Also, students can drop subjects they find difficult and can go for other alternatives to help them cope better with the syllabus.

We wanted: Food districts
Mumbai loves its food. But it also has to tackle with food Nazis such as a corrupt, rent-seeking establishment that creates a scarcity of licences and the forces food-stall entrepreneurs to pay their regular hafta. As a result, even streetside food is our of bounds for the poor. By creating food districts with international standards of hygiene and easy licensing, not only would we encourage tourism, it would also make Mumbai a food destination. Just like any other world-class city. It’s certainly not too much to ask for, is it?

We got: A better menu
The Mumbai foodie didn’t get a well-spread platter in 2013. From the absence of hygienic and cheap street fare for the common man to chic design and visionary planning to showcase our shoreline, restaurateurs and the powers that be seemed to have ensured that the city got the wrong end of the spoon. We didn’t see any food districts open up nor were there food festivals that genuinely highlighted regional flavours (barring those that politicians promoted with an eye on vote banks). International cuisine restaurants made tiny steps, but surely Mumbai’s ‘world-class’ tag deserves a well-cooked approach in 2014, what say?

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