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The Sinking feeling

india Updated: May 29, 2007 02:57 IST
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Like droves of Mumbai residents heading out of town for the summer, the Pawar family in the central suburb of Kalina too was packing on Sunday.

Air India peon Milind Pawar (35), his wife and children were packing in not just clothes but packing away the DVD player, iron, toys and, well, everything that could be removed in the 180 sq ft living-room-and-kitchen flat.

The Pawars are not going on holiday. With the monsoon barely two weeks away, they are moving to the first floor of their dwelling, fearing a repeat of the day India’s financial capital and wannabe global city now knows as 26/7.

It was in and around Kalina that a rampaging Mithi river jumped its bank and killed 400 people as large swathes of the city went 6 ft under. Across Mumbai, 798 people died.

“The entire house went under water,” said Pawar. “Somehow, we managed to save our lives.” His wife, Rashmi, explained how the family wore the same clothes for four days last year after floodwater ravaged their home.

There are thousands of families across Mumbai who now dread the monsoon, though two years have passed and more than Rs 500 crore has been invested in making the city safer:

-More than 1.5 lakh truckloads of silt have been removed from the Mithi.

-200 km of drains have been cleaned and widened.

-There are 18 new boats, 24 SUVs and trained rescue crews.

“We are better equipped this time,” said new Municipal Commissioner Jayraj Pathak.

Last week, the government — the confusion and breakdown of the chain of command still fresh in its collective mind — also appointed a senior bureaucrat, Principal Secretary (relief and rehabilitation) B.P. Pande as it pointsman for the monsoon.

None of this may be enough, as a HT examination of Mumbai’s infrastructure shows. A series starting today will detail all that has changed — and how it is coming up short. For corporate India, the euphoria of a hectic year of global trading and takeovers is being supplanted by dread at home as the monsoon advances.

"The progress is at a snail’s pace,” said Sangameswaran Manikan, Director, Investment Banking (Asia Pacific) ABN Amro. “Infrastructure in the city is far from global standards, making it difficult to position Mumbai as an international financial centre."

The economic boom over these two years has only made it harder. The market capitalisation of the Bombay Stock Exchange has grown by 108.7 per cent to Rs 35 lakh crore since March 2005.

Since 26/7, hundreds of new buildings have come up, with a structure, on average, being cleared every day. More than 10 lakh people and one lakh new vehicles have been added.

That means more garbage, more sewage, more open areas paved over and fewer natural outlets for water. Infrastructure will always be strained with population, now 14 million, slated to hit 22 million by 2011.

Back in Kalina, as it continues packing, the Pawar family is not impressed with the government. “Governments can make tall claims,” said Pawar. “We don’t want to take any chances.”

naresh.kamath@hindustantimes.com

(With inputs from Suprotip Ghosh)