Reading Mumbai papers online yesterday morning (I am in Ahmedabad for the Kabbadi World Cup), I came across a story about how the potholes problem has come down drastically, and that by next year, it should be licked off completely. In other words, “All is well.”
Now where have we heard this before? Ah yes, it was at the start of the year, when questions about Mumbai’s roads was raised (this paper, incidentally, has been carrying a relentless campaign) and all kinds of assurances were given that before the monsoons, everything would be fine.
You could go back a year – or a decade — further – to find the same story, with the same assurances (given by different people who were in power) in newspapers.
But, as every Mumbaiite would vouchsafe, there is no change in the situation. Not a whit.
What amazes me is that Mumbai, the country’s urbs prima, fares so badly in this respect. In the past few weeks, I have travelled to Delhi, Kolkata and now Ahmedabad, and can safely say that Mumbai’s roads are the worst.
It can be argued that of these four cities, Mumbai receives the most rainfall and has the highest car density, yet this still does not explain why the roads should be in ruins unless there are other factors at play?
My belief is that the crisis is because of a poor understanding of urbanisation: on the part of planners and authority certainly, but the citizenry as well. Those in charge of running the city do only as much as is demanded of them, while people settle for whatever is provided.
Over a period of time, this becomes a self-sustaining game, never mind criticism in the media, or a public protest every now and then.
Unless there is a breakthrough from this debilitating relationship, I’m afraid there is little scope for improvement.
For instance, the story I read on Thursday says the BMC is very proud that it has repaired 4,000 potholes this season and only 35 remain on Mumbai’s roads. No one is sure whether this is a wicked joke (April 1 is, after all, a few months away) or massive self-deception.
Most citizens can probably find 35 potholes in their own neighbourhoods. Even the Shiv Sena, which is part of the coalition that runs the BMC, is taken aback.
As Sena leader Yashodhar Phanse is quoted as saying in this paper, “Between Mahim church and Sena Bhavan itself, there are more than 35 potholes.”
Of course, if you want to give the BMC the benefit of doubt. Look at it this way: if every citizen can see 35 potholes in his or her own neighbourhood, then there are only 35 potholes that matter to him or her. The 35 potholes in the next area are someone else’s problem!
But the problem, as everyone in Mumbai knows, is real and seemingly permanent.
Every year, it rains and road surfaces get washed away. Every year, the same excuses are made. Every year, the same blacklisted contractors are given the job. Every year they make the same mess. And so on to the next year...
Over the years, many foreign “study” trips have been undertaken to find out what other city councils do. But when you try and apply Dubai methods to Mumbai, you run into another kind of a mess. Remember the time when a special chemical applied on new flyovers made them so slippery that they couldn’t be used?
Yet, there was also a time when it was standard practice for the chief minister of Maharashtra to get into a white Ambassador and drive all over Bombay with the municipal commissioner checking the condition of the roads before the monsoon began.
That was when Bombay was one of India’s best-run cities and the BMC was the envy of the whole of India.
And now we are at that high point of glory with only 35 potholes in the whole of the city, after an extremely vigorous monsoon!
Believe it or not.