Why can’t Mumbaiites have a say in decisions affecting their lives?

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 17, 2015 15:53 IST

Last week, HT published a report on how citizens were opposing several projects in Mumbai, as the Maharashtra and city government chose not to consult them before initiating the projects.

Decisions and projects such as the city’s development plan, construction of Metro 3, hawking zones, the new parking policy, permission to set up mobile towers at public places and the coastal road are in trouble, because of objections by citizen groups.

The Metro 3, proposed between Colaba and SEEPZ, is being opposed by citizens because of large-scale cutting of trees at Aarey Colony and possible demolition of 28 residential buildings in south Mumbai. The city’s DP has been in controversy right from the beginning, when the land use maps (that determine usage of land) were found faulty by experts. Several of its proposals, including boost to vertical growth and plans to build a hub in Aarey Milk Colony —one of the last remaining green patches in Mumbai—have irked citizens, activists and experts.

The civic body can’t be blamed for opposition to the parking policy, because it is actually intended to control the unmanageable growth of vehicles in the city and reduce congestion on roads. Still, it would be better to take citizens into confidence while implementing it. The coastal road proposed between south Mumbai and western suburbs is being opposed because of environmental concerns and other reasons.

At several places in the city, citizens have objected to the BMC’s decision to allow mobile phone towers in playgrounds and gardens. The demarcation of hawking zones, too, has not gone down well with residents.

In most of these cases, concerns raised by the citizens and experts are definitely serious. It leads to the question: Why the authorities don’t take people into confidence while taking decisions that affect their daily life?

Politicians and bureaucrats often say taking decisions or implementing projects will become very difficult if the government keeps seeking people’s opinion before each of them. But then, aren’t the decisions supposed to be for the people? If yes, then what is the harm in making the planning process transparent? Under the existing rules, the authorities are expected to conduct public hearings for certain projects. However, often, doubts are raised over the way these hearings are conducted.

Politicians and bureaucrats also need to know people don’t trust them much. They have seen how the nexus between them and the builders or businessmen operates. They have also seen how builders and business houses manage to get information about upcoming decisions and derive benefits from them.

People have questions over the coastal road and whether it will benefit certain individuals at its ending point in the western suburbs. People also want to know why housing projects should be included in the plan to develop Aarey Colony, if the idea is to prevent it from becoming another Dharavi, as stated by the civic chief.

As the HT report pointed out, the city has over 650 advanced locality management groups of residents and more than a hundred active resident associations. However, they are rarely taken into confidence by the government or civic body. The Nagar Raj bill was meant to encourage involvement of citizens in the decision-making process of civic bodies, but political parties are strongly opposed to it. If gramsabhas of villagers can take decisions for their areas in rural Maharashtra, why not citizen groups in the city?

Political parties, whether in power or opposition, will not like to answer such questions. Maybe, citizens in Mumbai can force them to come clean on this ahead of the civic polls.

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