Mumbai’s future in Delhi’s corridors? The jury is out

  • Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 10, 2014 19:11 IST

The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena and other assorted parties have made common cause against chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for his attempts to create a new architecture for Mumbai’s development.

Under the guise of streamlining and fast-tracking the city’s infrastructure development, Fadnavis is relinquishing power and authority of the city to his political bosses in Delhi, they allege.

Fadnavis has initiated measures that could attract the charge. His earliest decision was to appoint a special officer of the rank of additional chief secretary to coordinate the city’s development; a day before the state legislature could begin its winter session, he suggested to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he (Modi) must head a highlevel committee to fast-track the city’s projects.

But is he signing away Mumbai’s future to Delhi’s most powerful? The easy response to that would be in the affirmative, especially for those who are persuaded by the Shiv Sena’s nativist philosophy. The reality could be a lot more layered than that and a great deal complex too.

It’s a fact that Mumbai’s infrastructure planning, execution and management is done by 16 different agencies, most of them belonging to the state government, a few to the Centre and, of course, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. It’s a fact that Rs 4,200 crore was pending, at the last count in November 2014, from the Centre for various infrastructure projects. It’s also a fact that Fadnavis’ predecessor Prithviraj Chavan had repeatedly appealed to the Centre for decisions and funds for Mumbai’s projects.

Chavan had demanded nearly Rs 60,000 crore from the Dr Manmohan Singh government for big-ticket projects in the 2013-14 Union budget, repeatedly urged the Centre to award ‘national project status’ for key infrastructure projects, and special grants for others. Chavan had also made a pitch to the Planning Commission to make provisions in the 12th Five-Year Plan, but it was turned down.

There are two issues here. Firstly, by its nature, the Congress drew its political strength from rural areas and did not manage to weave in the new urban India, and its demands, into its agenda. The BJP has had an urban character and acknowledges its appeal in urban centres. Secondly, the Congress was by and l arge content to cruise with Mumbai’s infrastructure programme, while the BJP wants to drive the development. Transforming Mumbai, visibly and perceptually, is an important milestone to be achieved in its own five year plan.

Modi and Fadnavis, with generous support from lenders, corporates and consultants, are aligning themselves to this task. It calls for a new architecture of command and control, in which decisions are taken fast, bureaucratic delays are minimised and so on; the old one is too diffused and layered to yield quick results. Fadnavis’ decisions — to have a special officer and the PM-led high-level committee — are parts of the new architecture he is putting into place.

By itself, this does not amount to signing away Mumbai’s future to Delhi, but it does ring the alarm bells on at least two major aspects. One is the centralisation of power and decision-making that has come to be the hallmark of the Modi government so far. The last decade saw decision-making about Mumbai move from the BMC corridors to those of the state government, specifically the chief minister, who was also the urban development minister. Now, the process will have the PM involved. The trend of centralisation is disturbing.

The second aspect relates to the principle of participatory planning and citizens’ involvement in determining the future of their city. If Fadnavis’ new model shortcuts these essential parts of urban development, he would have set the city back by at least a decade for, after long campaigns, the BMC and a few other agencies recently made the space to consult citizens and seek their suggestions on infrastructure projects.

If Fadnavis can ensure participatory planning, not mere public hearings, his model could deliver results. We will have to wait and watch.

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