Once chief minister Devendra Fadnavis manages to prove that his government has the numbers required to govern Maharashtra on the floor of the legislative assembly on Wednesday – with or without the support of the Shiv Sena – he should be able to devote his energy to governance. Right on the top of his agenda would have to be developing Mumbai city and the Mumbai Metropolitan region, the centrepiece of the first ever BJP government in the state.
In declaring his intention to appoint a nodal officer, of the rank of the additional chief secretary, for the city, Fadnavis already sparked off the expected controversy with the Sena last week. The party was super touchy about the issue each time it was raised in the last 20 years. Typically, Sena’s leaders and cadre see any move to rationalise the powers and command of 16 different agencies under a nodal officer as an attempt to divide the city from the state.
The narrow nativistic reaction has come in the way of planning and governance, a fact that Uddhav Thackeray has refused to acknowledge. It may not earn him any points with his partymen and women but it’s time that Thackeray ran a reality check on this, among other aspects of his leadership of the party.
The truth is that a majority of the agencies that are responsible for planning and developing the city have little to do with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in which the Sena, along with the BJP, has been in power for nearly 30 years. As many as 10 of the 16 agencies and departments owe their existence, power and authority to the state government. Another three-four are agencies of the central government, such as the Mumbai Port Trust and Indian Railways. This was surely not an accident of administrative architecture.
Mumbai has been developed and governed since the 1980s by people who have not been elected by Mumbaiites and agencies that do not owe direct accountability to us. Think the Mumbai Metropolitan Re gion Development Authority ( MMRDA), the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada), the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) to name three. The BMC calls these “parastatal agencies…set up by the government of Maharashtra through executive or administrative orders”. It has been left only with zoning and land use plans, water supply and sanitation, public health and education, and a portion of the road network.
The governance and future of Mumbai has been decided by either the chief minister of Maharashtra or the bureaucrats (in some cases, former bureaucrats) appointed to head these state government agencies. Even within the BMC, it has been the state-appointed municipal commissioner rather than the elected mayor, of the Sena in the last 30 years, who has wielded power. The Sena’s power is through the BMC’s standing committees and, of course, muscle-flexing on the streets of Mumbai. Its opposition to the idea of a nodal officer decade after decade shows the Sena’s penchant for the superficial and dramatic. Fadnavis has seized the moment and responded.
But it is not only the rationalisation of power and control that the city could do with; it also needs accountability.
This can come not through a nodal officer that Fadnavis has in mind but in a number of ways. A directly elected official in charge of the city’s administration, planning and development, who could be a Sena man or woman with the title of mayor, is one of them. Some others would be empowered ward committees, autonomy in tax structures and revenue streams, e-governance and data-driven management systems, participatory and comprehensive planning for the city – all of these under the jurisdiction of the elected official and the BMC.
The planning and governance of Mumbai has turned opaque, non-responsive and bureaucrat-driven. There is, indeed, a case to make it simple, transparent and accountable. It is a pity that Thackeray has had nothing to offer on these counts all these years. He could start now by countering Fadnavis’ proposal with his own, if he so wishes. Let there be a debate.