Why does Mumbai smell so much? Is a question I have often been asked, by friends or family, whenever and whoever makes his maiden visit to this city. Smell? What smell? I remark. Maybe you have got used to it, they grumble. Maybe I have, I mutter back.
Do you know Mumbai is changing? I once asked a friend, a fresh Non-resident-Indian convert now based in New Zealand, over the phone. Will it ever? He shot back. That was a couple of years ago.
A fortnight back, I was at the International airport terminal’s arrival lounge to receive the same friend. As I watched him emerge, all that I could see him do was gawk in amazement. Wide eyed. Disbelieving. Whats wrong here,he gasped, in amazement. It has changed.
But there is nothing surprising in that look of his which I saw. I have in recent times seen many with those dumbstruck looks.
I am a Marathi speaking Mumbaikar, yes. A hardcore one at that. But, I am also this city’s staunchest critic, if I could call myself one. And in the role that I am, officially, heading a public trust which aims at transforming the lives of the citizens of Mumbai, I think my dual role helps me best.
(For the uninitiated, I recently completed 100 days as the CEO of Bombay First, or Mumbai First which can also be trached on http://www.mumbaifirst.org
Bombay First has a mandate and vision to transform Mumbai in to a better place to live, work and invest in. It aims to serve the city with the best that private business can offer. It will achieve this by addressing the problems of today and the opportunities of tomorrow, through partnerships with government, business and civil society. Catalyst. Joining Dots. A model of Private-Public-Partnership.)
Not many in Mumbai travel to the International Airport, the T2, as is popularly known, every day or even once a year for that matter. Thus, to expect them to shower heaps of praise on the “marvelous”drive to the airport and back, would be unfair. They would not even know it exists, but for the countless hoardings and newspaper ads and write-ups which spoke of the airport terminus when it was inaugurated. Who trusts the written word anyways, can be the argument.
And for staunch advocates of a transforming (which is a far cry from a transformed) Mumbai, the criticism is unabated. But yes, Mumbai is changing.
In the first half of this year, 2014, alone, Mumbai’s transformation programme has offered the citizens the T2 (the International airport terminal and a fancy driveway to support it), an elevated Eastern Express Freeway, the Metro rail, the elevated Mono rail and a lounging connector road between the Eastern suburbs and western suburbs called the SCLR (Santacruz Chembur Link road).
Then there is also the elevated road in the western suburbs which replaces the Milan subway and the freshly inaugurated Kherwadi flyover along the Western Express Highway which was a reason for many a traffic snarl for the better part of this summer.
For the lakhs of people of this city, all these are non existent. Optimists talk about the hundreds and thousands who take the metro train from Versova in Andheri (a western suburb) to Ghatkopar (in the eastern suburbs) every day. But there are lakhs and lakhs who still wait in queues or plead to the auto rickshaw wallahs to take them to routes where the trains do not even dream of reaching.
Even within the city. For them, Mumbai hasn’t changed. But worsened. The story is no different for those taking the Monorail. What’s that? It’s that little toy train up in the sky which we may see in some parts of the city in the next generation.
The two works of art which have seen some appreciation and significant use, has been the Eastern Freeway, which connects the distant eastern suburbs to south Mumbai’s CST cutting down travel time to almost one third and an almost similar, first-of-its-kind connect between the Western and Central suburbs from Kalina in Santacruz to Chembur, called the SCLR. The story of Mumbai is almost like that of the office of the MTSU or Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, a body headed by bureaucrat, so typical in attire and yet, competent to the T. B C Khatua sits on the third floor of a rickety building adjacent to the beautiful and historic Horniman circle.
His job on behalf of the MTSU is to coordinate, advise, and monitor projects undertaken by the city’s multiple governing bodies.Multiple no doubt, as I would like to explain later. MTSU’s one-point agenda: to facilitate the transformation of Mumbai into a world-class city. It is ironical that the man keeping an eye on the city’s transformation sits in a building that could do with a lick of metamorphosis itself. But, that is the story of Mumbai. There is so much happening. But the city is moving faster than the growth. The development, if one would call it that, has been more reactive, that proactive. The Metro project, for example, is a multi phased project.
The 11.4-km line was built over six years. The entire project should have been completed by now. What we have, is only the First phase, which has taken close to a decade.
One can imagine the state of the city, the population and its plight, when the project gets completed a hundred years later. Maybe not that many, but you get my point.
The Metro is not the only delayed project. One of the other projects which I have spoken of, the SCLR earned the epithet “world’s most delayed road project” from the World Bank. The monorail was greeted with sceptical jeers as the project in its current state hardly connects populated areas.
Mumbai’s list of woes is unending and like the delays in every project, is only growing.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region [MMR, which includes Mumbai and its satellite towns like Navi Mumbai and Thane] is about 4,350 sq km. Of this, Mumbai and its suburbs account for 482 sq km, just 11%. But the population is largely focused around Mumbai and its suburbs. We now have have a situation where nearly 12.5 million people out of the 22 million [in MMR] live in just 11% of the city’s land mass. A situation now gradually changing with people moving beyond Mumbai city limits and its suburbs to its satellite towns in search of more affordable dwelling. The 2011 census showed, the population of the island city of Mumbai came down from 33.26 lakh in 2001 to 31.45 lakh in 2011 (down 5.4%).
During this period, Navi Mumbai grew by 59%. Which is why, among the list of demands that are being pushed forth by the city planners, is the new International airport closer to Navi Mumbai.
Orchestra without a Conductor:
For every right that takes place, there are ten wrongs, remarks one town planner, who has been associated with this city’s infrastructure project since the time he has living memory.
As Adi Godrej, Chairman of the Godrej group told a journalist, “Mumbai is not in a decline… things are changing, but not at the pace they should be. The city has to keep up with the times.” Seventeen agencies are involved in the city’s governance. It is like an an orchestra. You have 17 players — each one of them good at what they do — but without a conductor…it simply can’t work, I remember Narinder Nayar, Chairman of Bombay First once telling me. There are multiple bodies doing the same work, be it in the Railways or the Public works and infrastructure, almost competing and sometimes fighting with each other.
What Does Mumbai need?
First and foremost, Mumbai needs a CEO like officer and an institution which can be the conductor of this unwieldy orchestra. This should be supported by a ministry in the government which looks differently at mega cities and their growth and issues. For instance, much of Mumbai’s mobility woes have been attributed to the increasing number of vehicles on the roads, which have left pedestrians with no choice but to either stay indoors or come under the wheels of these vehicles.
The alternate option is to have a coastal road. Mumbai being a coastal city. But, the stringent CRZ (Coastal regulatory Zone) rules, which apply to all coastal cities, apply here and prominent citizens have been advocating that these rules be eased for mega cities.
Mumbai also lacks open spaces. Landsharks seek out any bit of open land before the public can get to it. What town planners have found as a safe alternative is the under-utilised land of the Mumbai Port Trust.
There is a huge track of land, completely underutilised. Along the South-east coast of Mumbai. Free this up and make it available to Mumbaikars for recreation, has been the voice of many a campaigners, including former banker Meera Sanyal, who twice contested the elections from South Mumbai but lost on both occasions. What Mumbai also needs is a kinder eye to the problem that masses face every day. A significant number of people of this city commute by the rail system every day. Under extremely pitiable conditions. The suburban rail network desperately needs a coat of modernisation. Bombay First has also been campaigning for a body which can integrate all forms of public transport and uniformly transform it, modernise it and make it a place of pride for the citizens.
Almost in the manner that the metro rail has been for this city. And then make the entire travel air-conditioned.
Then finally, citizens will get an opportunity to breathe easy. The sigh of relief can come later.