It is clear that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is a man in a hurry when it comes to projects in and about Mumbai. He wants to transform not only the city, but also the larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) in a short time and in a manner that bears his signature over it. This large-scale transformation, he envisages, will be led by capital-intensive mega infrastructure projects.
The grand plans in this project, the roadblocks and suggestions to remove them will form the substance of the Mumbai Next: MMR Transformation conclave later this week, where Fadnavis will listen to the business and social elite of the city, indeed the country, scheduled to attend it.
Listen to them, he must, for the captains of industry and czars of entertainment are deemed to be more qualified than Magsaysay award-winning social activists and average Mumbaiites to discuss the subject because the transformation is about creating a “financial, commercial and entertainment hub”.
For transformation watchers, if you please, there is a sense of déjà vu. And the inevitability of big money muscling its agenda into the city. But for those in the middle of it, this is no doubt a super-exciting time to be rolling up sleeves.
They have been there before. Only, the last time around, they were heard, indulged and then kind of marginalised. That was in the late 1990s when the Bombay First, the non-profit organisation of corporate leaders, first mooted the idea of Mumbai as an international finance centre. It did not become a mainstream idea.
In 2002, to attract private involvement/investment in the city’s infrastructure, the then Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government organised a Mumbai infrastructure conference. This gave us the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP). The idea of Mumbai as a financial centre was rebooted. Bombay First then invited the global consulting firm McKinsey to prepare a report. Called the Vision Mumbai document, it appealed to the government of the day. And the wheels of the transformation project were set in motion.
Of course, this vision was not of an inclusive, democratic, equitable Mumbai. It could not be. It primarily focussed on that which would bring international finance and commerce, but it became the government’s agenda. Successive chief ministers faltered in making that vision a reality. Fadnavis is setting right that record.
As it turns out, the 'Mumbai Next' concept and conclave has the support of members of the re-christened Mumbai First. It also happens to provide inputs to the chief minister’s “war room” set up to track the progress of infrastructure projects in Mumbai.
Vision Mumbai may be a legitimate lavish one for a few sectors of corporate India, but fundamentally flawed in its approach to sustainable urbanisation. It seeks to transform Mumbai mainly through mega projects but equally by “re-orienting and reshaping the state (itself),” according to University of Pennsylvania study, among the few that explore the state-corporate axis in urbanisation. The axis is getting stronger in the Fadnavis – and the Bharatiya Janata Party – era.
While freeways, coastal roads, new business districts, entertainment hubs, convention centres are par for the course here, what do these give the average Mumbai citizen? Fadnavis spoke of the coastal road on the city’s western shore because some 60% of the traffic flows in this region. But it is of limited relevance in a city where an average 85% commuters use public transport modes that are not welcome on it, as they are not on the Bandra-Worli sea link. This is but one example.
So whose Mumbai will it be in 2025? No prizes for guessing.