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Digging is a sign of progress

Updated on: 11 May,2024 06:28 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Lindsay Pereira |

It’s unfair to accuse the BMC of incompetence just because nothing in the city works the way it is supposed to

Digging is a sign of progress

As a long-time supporter of the BMC, I would like to propose the argument that digging on every street is a good thing because it is a sign that something is always being done. Representation Pic/Anurag Ahire

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Digging is a sign of progress

Lindsay PereiraHere’s a solid recommendation for the weekend: the World Air Quality Report 2023. It makes for fascinating reading because it encourages all smokers living in Bombay to abandon the habit as soon as possible. Apparently, our country of 100 Smart Cities had the third worst air quality out of 134 countries last year. The only places with lower scores were Bangladesh and Pakistan. It also said that of the top 50 most polluted cities in the world, 42 were in India.

I mention pollution because a lot of people—and more than a few experts qualified to talk about this sort of thing—have begun to connect poor air quality with factors such as traffic and construction. I recently read another report stating that 29 per cent of airborne particulate matter in the city came from road and construction dust, followed by power plants. It doesn’t take a degree in Entire Political Science to see how traffic congestion caused by unchecked construction, poorly maintained roads, and crumbling infrastructure can lead to the relentless pumping of exhaust gases into the atmosphere. And this is where the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation comes in.

It has become fashionable to attack the BMC for the state of Bombay’s roads, and for everything else that appears to go wrong within the city’s borders. The organisation is often blamed even for things that aren’t under their purview. I believe they are unfairly targeted though, only because everything is dug up for no obvious reason. Walk down any street and you find missing paver blocks, piles of debris alongside overflowing gutters, and holes that were presumably supposed to be filled in before workers tasked with the chore were asked to dig new ones.

It’s all very mysterious because no one who isn’t a member of the BMC is ever sure about why anything is being dug anywhere. This isn’t to say this highly efficient organisation doesn’t know what it is doing, but I suppose some attempt at transparency would go a long way towards assuaging any unnecessary criticism. What is wrong with a hole on every street, I often ask myself. Doesn’t it make life so much nicer when a walk to the grocery store starts to resemble a live-action obstacle course? Where has our collective spirit of adventure gone?

As a long-time supporter of the BMC, I would like to propose the argument that digging on every street is a good thing because it is a sign that something is always being done. An organisation that spends six months digging a hole and another six months to fill it back in, is an organisation that is always on its toes. An organisation that cannot figure out how to fix potholes after decades of studying the problem is an organisation committed to the constant pursuit of learning, no matter the cost.

We should stop looking at the BMC as a place where intelligence and competence go to die and start recognising it as a place that has never stopped working to make this city more liveable. Look at the public art it installs at every major intersection, or the renaming exercises it unfailingly commissions and carries out every five years. Look at the way new coats of paint are cleverly used to simulate improvement and tell me this isn’t a group of people committed to innovation and evolution.

Critics often point to some nexus between BMC officials and the real estate lobby. We shouldn’t give any credence to this fictitious thought just because the BMC has a say in what can be built, torn down, or redeveloped in our city. If the BMC allows rampant construction without first checking whether an area or locality can cope with an influx of people and vehicles, it is because it has always subscribed to the belief that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Build whatever you like, wherever you like, says the BMC, and everything needed to sustain this unchecked development will magically appear.

Yes, the city is gasping for breath. Yes, the quality of roads and major infrastructure is poor. Yes, nothing works the way it should, not even the official BMC website. Does this mean we attack them for their obvious mismanagement and inefficiency? Of course not. I believe we should start to be more complimentary and give the BMC our benefit of the doubt instead. Bombay may never work like a world-class city, but they will never stop digging these streets, and it’s the thought that should count.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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