What should Mumbai have in 2017? With the New Year only a few days away and the all-important election to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) looming large on the horizon, it is time to draw up a wish-list for the city. Wishes may not come true, but it does not mean we cannot have wish-lists.
At the top of the list is a simple wish: The state government, the BMC, and the dozen-odd authorities, who plan and execute the city’s development, must listen to the average citizen’s complaints, objections and suggestions. This they should not do as a mere token or a box to be checked in their procedures, but in a manner that’s transparent, thoughtful and receptive.
The experience of the last few years is that major projects are pushed through despite citizens’ concerns and objections. If the Rs1 lakh crore worth of projects announced or commenced recently are indeed for Mumbai’s citizens, then the authorities must first listen to what citizens want and do not want. They must also listen to a wide range of experts instead of their own echo chambers. If they listen with honesty, ill-conceived projects like the coastal road would be scrapped, open spaces such as the Aarey forest would be protected, and a comprehensive and correct Development Plan (DP) will get passed.
The next wish is that the authorities work on the principle of sustainable and equitable development of the entire city. This means projects are not tailored to suit only a certain class, such as private car owners or the whims and fancies of a few influential
politicians who demand expensive memorials. Mumbai’s citizens, even those with deep regard for Chhatrapati Shivaji, would have preferred that the government spent Rs3,600 crore on projects that made the city more liveable instead of a grand memorial in the sea.
How about a cohesive and inter-connected mass transport system combining the railways, buses, and metro, which will be a grid across the length and breadth of the city? How about pavements of standard specification across the city? Certain areas in south Mumbai have wide pavements; in suburbs with dense populations, even roads are not as wide as those pavements. The pedestrian Mumbaiite is hardly the subject of studies, official attention or dedicated projects though pedestrians comprise more than half of the city’s population.
And, while on the subject, it would not be too much to aspire to have roads free of potholes, dug-out areas and garbage dumps. Also, better lit and safe-to-use roads and pavements across Mumbai with accessible and clean public toilets. There is also an urgent need for cleaner public hospitals and affordable private healthcare. These wishes are unlikely to find mention in election manifestos, but they are important.
No wish-list for Mumbai would be complete without the mention of housing. All the authorities together have not been able to break the stranglehold of the real estate lobby on the city. Rather, they have been unwilling to do so. The property market in Mumbai has remained skewed and unrealistically high through successive governments and economic conditions; affordable housing is the eternal dream. Would the Devendra Fadnavis government restore the balance in this sector? Yes, the BJP and the Shiv Sena have leaders who are powerful builders but this is a wish-list, after all.
Last but not the least is the wish for Mumbai to reclaim the mantle that it once had: the city of ideas, learning and intellectualism. Successive governments have ignored the need to invest time, thought and money into the knowledge, cultural and creative aspects of Mumbai. What is definitely not wished for is the Times Square model replicated at Kala Ghoda.
What Mumbai does not need is a government and a municipal corporation which either bulldozes big-ticket projects through or merely imitates central governments schemes such as Swachh Bharat and Smart Cities missions, or sets up handful of open-air gyms and limited free Wi-fi zones here and there. The wish-list for a vibrant and equitable Mumbai runs diverse and deep; it’s also quite basic.