If the presentable areas of the city wear a dapper look in the next few days, know that the state government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation are hard at work. Their brief is to spruce up the city for the high-powered business delegations from across the world that will come here to attend the Make in India event from February 13. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the high-voltage event.
Among the areas that will receive attention and resources will be Bandra Kurla Complex, which is an extremely well maintained enclave by the city’s standards and the host venue for the event; Worli, Bandra, the Gateway of India and other specific sites that delegates will be taken on a sight-seeing spree will also see some sprucing up. The leisure itinerary includes the old textile mills. This congested and unequal area, marked by swank high-rises alongside decrepit chawls with open gutters, may not lend itself to a complete tidying up.
Neither the prime minister nor the delegates will be taken around Chembur, Deonar, Bainganwadi and other localities that lie on the Kurla side behind the swank Bandra Kurla Complex. This is a part of the underbelly of Mumbai. This is where commonplace civic maintenance is at a serious discount, forget special cleanliness drives or targeted sprucing up initiatives such as the one taken up in BKC. This is where the overflowing dumping ground saw a fierce fire rage on for days together, deteriorating Mumbai’s bad air quality to an extent that it set off alarm bells last month.
Over the last few days, responsible bureaucrats such as the state’s chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya and municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta have stated on record that “areas from Bandra to island city will be spruced up…these areas should be vibrant…road digging will not be allowed” and so on, to emphasise their efforts to present a good looking city to the prime minister’s guests. In the last 18 months, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has concentrated on mega projects such as the coastal road, metro lines, creating smart city zones in BKC and Parel, the new international airport and so on.
This raises serious questions about the priorities and intentions of the government and BMC. As Fadnavis lays out the red carpet for the well-heeled in his bid to carry out the prime minister’s pet projects, as his hand-picked bureaucrats rush in to carry out this agenda, as the better off parts of the city get even more lavish attention than others, the question to ask is if all this is not deepening the divide and creating new ones between the have and have-not parts of Mumbai.
Inequality was always sharp within the city but will the new rush of investments and lavish attention in some areas not make it worse? The BMC’s own data has shown how skewed the city’s development is with the neglected areas including Deonar and Bainganwadi scoring low on parameters of civic amenities, health, education and sex ratio. The gap between have and have-not parts of Mumbai should have merited more serious attention from both the BMC and the government than we have seen.
But we have not heard Fadnavis or his team talk with a sense of urgency about setting up biogas plants at the dumping grounds or forcing segregation of waste from the household right up to the disposal site. The Deonar fire was the fourth major one at a dumping ground in less than a year, affecting the health of millions of Mumbaiites. It worsened the city’s air pollution and choked large parts of the city. It should not have been business as usual in the corridors of power, but it was.
Fadnavis is clearly a man with a mission. But it must be asked if he is not being partial to certain areas of the city – at the cost of others that are crying out for more attention and resources.