March 5, 2014 at 2:52am

India’s urbanisation rate is nearly four times greater than the rest of the world. This phenomenon has led to widespread urban decay. Where do we go from here? And what are the prospects?

Mumbai, India’s financial capital has been a victim of this trend. The rural economy’s slow growth — upon which two-thirds of India depends — has catalysed influx into Mumbai from several states. This has resulted in a massive strain on the city’s urban infrastructure, especially housing.

Archaic laws preventing large scale public housing, a slow Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and police force, short sightedness on the part of certain citizen groups and, most importantly, a lack of political will, have led to the proliferation of slums.

Additionally, unprecedented construction activity in the absence of basic civic amenities and a crumbling transportation network, are only adding to the problem.

Mumbai always holds a special place in my heart. I am not against the pace of commercial construction in Mumbai provided that the corresponding infrastructure is in place. Infrastructure must precede development.

Mumbai should no longer be allowed to develop in an ad-hoc fashion. If any building is without water, no new permissions should be issued. What’s unfortunate is that the Building Proposal department of the BMC doesn’t even coordinate a building proposal with the hydraulic department, which is responsible for providing water to residents of the structure.

I strongly believe that development charges for commercial development are ridiculously low. This charge should be increased and the state government and BMC should utilise the proceeds exclusively for basic infrastructure development.

In a nutshell, Mumbai’s development process requires political will on the part of the Maharashtra Urban Development department as well as major municipal reforms.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (NURM), unveiled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this month, proposes to do just this. In the mid-’80s, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi realised the importance of controlling urbanisation, and constituted the Urbanisation Commission, led by Charles Correa. Barring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, few prime ministers have understood the causes and effects of urbanisation in India .

Mumbai’s problem is that too many agencies run it, leading to a duplication of work and a lack of coordination. This unsynchronized effort results in incessant squabbling between departments. The BMC blaming MMRDA for potholes, MHADA blaming BMC for tenants residing in old and dilapidated buildings are seasonal shows for Mumbai’s readers. It’s the classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Devolution and reorganisation of powers is therefore critical for Mumbai’s sustainable development. As a first step, Mumbai should have a directly elected mayor. This will lead to accountability and ensure cooperation amongst agencies. After all, Mumbai’s Mayor is one of 227 Municipal Councillors. How can we expect him to have a holistic vision for the city?

Also, when cities like Indore and Chennai elect their mayors directly, why can’t we? The NURM should demand this crucial reform before it grants any monies towards Mumbai. It would be a shame if the world’s largest democracy is unable to make one of Asia’s largest civic bodies — the BMC — truly representative of every Mumbaikar’s aspirations.

We all have a role to play in making this city a better place to live in. India’s private sector, headquartered in Mumbai, must realise that they belong to the city. Barring a few individuals, Mumbai’s floods failed to establish the corporate leadership witnessed by America during 9/11 or the floods in New Orleans and Katrina.

This segment remained largely indifferent and rather pleased by the fact that South Mumbai was unaffected, while other parts of the city struggled to stay afloat.

Empowerment is more than a choice — it’s a right. Every Mumbaikar must put away his/her differences and come together to rebuild this great city. That is my wish for 2006.


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