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The Mumbai Project: Looking London, Talking Mumbai

With 12 Govt agencies, trying to manage Mumbai’s makeover, it’s no wonder it’s taking forever. A truly empowered mayor is vital. Ketaki Ghoge tells us more. Talk to us...Check out the special on The Mumbai Project

india Updated: Dec 15, 2007 17:32 IST
Ketaki Ghoge

“A directly elected mayor with more power should be appointed in Mumbai. Quick decisions about the city’s development can be taken only when you invest complete authority on one person or agency. A directly elected mayor would be perfect for a city like this, where there are multiple agencies delaying the decision-making process.” - Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London. He became the Mayor on the creation of the post in 2000 and was re-elected in June 2004. (Check out the special on The Mumbai Project)

Workers fix fancy signs and work on new-age lifts for the physically challenged in a subway outside the glitzy, new Metro Adlabs Cinema at Marine Lines in Mumbai’s old colonial heart. Outside, evening filmgoers struggle across the street as car-horns blare at them and drivers play a dangerous avoid-the-pedestrian game. It will be another month before pedestrians can take the subway. But what’s another month when you’ve waited five years?

This Rs 19-crore subway is part of the officiously called Pedestrian Grade Separation Scheme. Launched in 2002, the scheme aimed to make it safer — and easier — to cross streets, through a series of 27 subways and foot overbridges.

It is perhaps the simplest component of the Rs 4,500-crore Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP-I), which envisions bridges, flyovers, subways, new railway stations, trains and dedicated bus lanes across our booming city of over 14 million. The Metro subway is the only project of the 27 to have left the drawing board. Here’s why.

For five years, the civic body and traffic police have been squabbling over traffic arrangements for roads that would need to be blocked or closed while work is underway. They have also been trying — and failing — to get various authorities from state-run telecommunications firm MTNL to the private Reliance Infocomm to divert utility cables like telephone and power lines. They’ve even been struggling unsuccessfully to get their own water supply and storm water drain departments to close off the water mains and sewer lines that crisscross the city underground.

Subways, like the one at Metro, are now likely to be dropped from the transport project.
• Meanwhile, in the same time, Shanghai has built a 30-km track for its new high-speed, magnetic-levitation trains.
• Bogotá, the capital of the Colombia, has put in place a world-class bus system with dedicated lanes and 300 km of cycle tracks. It has decongested roads and brought down pollution levels in this South American megacity (population: 6.8 million).
• São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and home to 17 million, stripped off all advertising hoardings despite hardline opposition from businesses — within a year.

Shanghai, Bogotá, São Paulo — they had the funds. So do we. They had a plan. So do we.

Here’s the main difference

They have just one destination for every civic grievance — a directly elected mayor or president, whose political future depends on whether he can keep his city running smoothly, whether he can deliver on promises and plans.

Over the last 10 years, global cities from London to Johannesburg have transformed the largely decorative post of the First Citizen into one of real responsibility.

Experts believe it is no coincidence that they then managed to step much more quickly and with much less fuss into the 21st century.
Even the central think tank Administrative Reforms Committee (ARC) recommended, in a report submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month, that a directly elected mayor be appointed through popular mandate to run the nation’s cities — something citizens’ groups and even some politicians have been asking for years.

“Mumbai is perhaps the only megacity in the world whose makeover is being implemented by a dozen agencies as varied as the Indian Railways and the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation,” said former civic chief V. Ranganathan. “Each of these authorities is answerable to a different boss, making coordination chaotic and, in some cases, virtually impossible.”

Added O.P. Mathur of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy: “We need to think about better city governance. If not a directly elected mayor, then at least someone with more executive power who can lead the city, assisted by a civic commissioner who implements the decisions of the corporation professionally.”

So, who is in charge of Mumbai’s makeover?

The dozen parallel civic and state agencies overseeing the various projects make Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh the de facto head.

But he is also answerable to 105 million others across a vast territory that makes up India’s third-largest state (if it were to be a country, Maharashtra would be the world’s 12th largest, by population).

To his credit, Deshmukh has been much more actively involved in the development of the megalopolis — perhaps an indication of the rising power of the urban mandate.

But while he struggles to untie the red tape and solve the squabbles bogging down big-ticket projects like the Bandra-Worli sealink and the Mumbai Metro, the little ones — the subways, new railway booking offices and car parks — remain empty shells by excavated roadsides.

Consider this. Our city has committed Rs 43,000 crore to big-ticket infrastructure projects over the last four years.
Only projects worth Rs 10,809 crore have taken off — and less than half the funds, around Rs 3,000 crore, has been spent on the proposed sea bridges, roads and new trains and buses.

“It is not funding that is holding up our projects… it is a function of our governance deficits — poor planning and cost and time overruns make approvals, coordination and land acquisition virtually impossible,” said a senior bureaucrat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

For one of the three fastest-growing cities in the world, Mumbai can ill afford such a poor track record. “We have flagged this to the state government on several occasions,” said Hubert Nove Josserand, senior transportation planner with World Bank. “But coordination issues have not been resolved. It has delayed MUTP. On the ground, there are way too many agencies. Taking them together, getting clearances on time and coordination are not easy.”

Meanwhile, outside Dadar station, a garbage dump, scores of illegal vendors and honking taxis pose a daily obstacle race to the 3.5 lakh people who pass through every day.

In a few months, the civic body should have completed a skywalk, subway, new booking offices, taxi stands and parking spaces under the Station Area Traffic Improvement Scheme — another component of MUTP, launched four years ago.

The plans never left the drawing board.

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Check out the special on The Mumbai Project