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Mumbai deluge: A case to decongest the city further?

People suffered more because they were stuck for longer hours due to the distance between their workplaces and homes.

mumbai Updated: Sep 05, 2017 13:03 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
People struggle on waterlogged roads in Mumbai on August 29.
People struggle on waterlogged roads in Mumbai on August 29.(HT FILE)

Exactly a week ago, thousands of Mumbaiites were stuck in trains, buses and cars or at workplaces as incessant rains flooded the city and the evening commute turned into a nightmare. Many travelled for five to 10 hours to reach their homes in Mumbai or in far-off suburbs.

In the past one week, much has been said about the way the authorities handled the deluge. Several questions have been raised over the capability of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) which governs the city or the Maharashtra government to prevent such a breakdown in the commercial capital of India. At the same time, there is another aspect that needs to be looked into so the citizens living or working in the city have to suffer less in such a situation: Decongesting the city’s commercial activities to decentralise jobs to suburbs and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).

In the past decade or so, large number of people opted to live outside Mumbai in the MMR due to high real estate rates or rents in the city. However, many of them keep travelling to the city for work. The floating population to Mumbai did not decrease which is evident from the enormous increase in suburban train services, bus services and flow of vehicles to the city. As such, there is tremendous pressure on mass transport system and road network in the city.

On Tuesday, people suffered more because they were stuck for longer hours due to the distance between their workplaces and homes.

Urban planners are pointing out that the decongestion of commercial activities in the city is what needs to be paid attention to. “It is necessary to decentralise jobs to MMR,” insists Pankaj Joshi of Urban Design Research Institute.

It’s not like the government did not try to solve this problem. It first happened when government agency CIDCO built Navi Mumbai in the 1980s. The CBD (central business district) was meant to be an alternative to south Mumbai’s business hub. However, majority of corporate houses and government establishments did not move there. The second attempt was made when the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) was created. It emerged as parallel to Nariman Point in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With Mumbai moving from industries to service sector, new establishments found office spaces in areas such as factories in Andheri (East) started shutting shops and in Parel as land under defunct textile mills was developed.

However, these initiatives did not reduce the congestion because majority of the new commercial offices remained within the city. As such the travel pattern changed up to a limit but the pressure on the city’s transport infrastructure remained the same.

Planners say creation of new growth centres around Mumbai will reduce the pressure on the transport infrastructure and thus the congestion in the city. In Delhi, the growth centres were created at Gurgaon and Noida in the National Capital Region. Similarly, creating growth centres in Thane, Vasai-Virar, Navi Mumbai and Kalyan would have helped decongest Mumbai.

In fact, the government had taken first such step with the development of Navi Mumbai. For some reasons, the CBD did not take off the way it had planned. The state had also planned another satellite city in Vasai-Virar. It would have changed a lot of things in Mumbai. However, the plan was shelved following opposition by locals. The Vasai-Virar belt has turned into an unplanned concrete jungle now. In the past decade, there were no such efforts. Probably the government relied heavily on development of Navi Mumbai international airport which is expected to boost growth in commercial activities in Navi Mumbai-Raigad belt.

The Fadnavis government had announced a BKC-type commercial centre near Kalyan and turning the Trans Thane Creek (TTC) area into a new business hub but nothing much seems to be happening on ground.

Considering the speed with which the new airport at Navi Mumbai is being built, it may take another decade to develop the commercial areas in the satellite city.

As various aspects of Mumbai’s infrastructure are being discussed in the context of the August 29 deluge, it may make sense to take a look at the need to decentralise jobs in the city and ease some pressure off its transport infrastructure.