Elections to the BMC are due next month. Hectic parleys are underway as the political parties search for strategies and alliances to get control of the country’s richest municipal corporation.
Who will win the elections time alone will tell and is not really germane to the issue. Rather, it is what people of this city want and deserve. Here’s a four-point agenda for the next custodian of the BMC to make Mumbai livable again.
A standing joke in my college days — quite morbid admittedly — was that if an unwanted relative fell ill get him or her admitted to a municipal hospital: the return back home was highly unlikely. The crux issue in this tasteless sentiment might appear to be the hapless relative, but in fact it was an indictment of the health facilities and care provided by the BMC.
Not much, sadly, has changed in the past four decades and more. Going by recent stories, shenanigans in BMC hospitals have reached new heights. Ironically, medical colleges that come under the jurisdiction of the BMC provide excellent education and produce excellent doctors. In the absence of a national health scheme, a vast majority of citizens are left to the mercy of the BMC. It devolves on the corporation to deliver: not just in hospitals, but scores of municipal dispensaries that dot the city.
Supplementary to health care, and rather much in dire straits too. Given the apathy of the BMC, municipal schools have become repositories of inadequate and unfulfilling education. Curriculums are often obsolete or not strictly adhered to (for lack of vigilance) and teaching standards have slumped as teachers have migrated (or want to) to private schools.
Right to education is enshrined in the Constitution as imperative for the development of society and nation and municipal schools seemed to work well in the first few decades post-Independence. As private education has flourished, those in the economically deprived categories have been unable to benefit and are being left behind. An aspirational society was always going to throw up serious challenges, but the gross neglect of the BMC is creating a socio-eco-cultural chasm that could hurt in the future.
My first editor would refer to Bombay (as the city was known earlier) as Slumbay. This was not only because of the proliferation of ghettos and slums, but because of the distinct odour he got whenever he returned home. Since Bombay became Mumbai, that particular smell has reduced considerably. But whether the city is much better off environmentally today is a moot point.
This must necessarily be seen in the context of how sensibilities of people have changed, what their expectations are today and how much of this is being met. In this aspect, I venture the BMC has flopped. Last year’s raging fire at the Deonar waste dump is a case in point, but not the only one. In fact, it is not major incidents that highlight the inefficacy of the BMC, but the everyday maintenance of the city. There seems to be gross reluctance to do things that any city — leave aside the country’s leading megapolis — requires.
Waste and garbage piles lie across Mumbai’s length and breadth, sometimes unattended for days. Repairs of sewers take longer than perhaps anywhere else in the world. Roads remain dug up for longer. And, of course, every remedial activity comes only at a price.
And it is not just about garbage and stink, but caring about and maintaining open spaces, the coast line and beaches, the excellent heritage and legacy structures that give Mumbai its identity and not the least, taking a holistic view of cluster redevelopment.
Monsoon preparedness and the omnipresent potholes:
This cannot be explained in a few paras but would need a book. Or several. Suffice to say that Mumbai’s best season, the monsoon, has become its worst for citizens to cope with. And the pothole problem has assumed, in an odious sense, legendary status.
Can there be relief from this?