Mumbai’s No. 1 rank must not be a smokescreen for incompetence

  • Ayaz Memon, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Mar 18, 2016 01:11 IST

In the middle of a surcharged national atmosphere of debating tolerance, nationalism and patriotism, Mumbai got some unexpectedly good news last week.

Of the 21 cities assessed in the third Annual Survey of India’s City Systems, Mumbai emerged top of the pops, dislodging Kolkata from pole position to rank 3 this year. The number 2 spot went to Thiruvananthapuram while Pune and Bhopal were 4th and 5th respectively.

For the record, Delhi finished 6th which should be particularly gratifying to those who see the country’s capital as Mumbai’s arch rival in most things, not the least how these two cities function on a daily basis.

Essentially, the survey takes into account quality of life in terms of urban governance and Mumbai has moved up 8 places from the previous year! This is a significant jump and should be a matter of great pride.

But of what use are hacks if they are not sceptical! The question that then arises is if there is no visible transformation, what does this rating really mean?

Contextualising the result provides food for thought. On the basis of the criteria deployed in the survey, Mumbai gets a score of 4.2 on 10 while cities like New York and London score a whopping 9.7 and 9.4.

What this reveals is that India’s urbs prima is somewhere at the bottom when compared to the best cities in the world. And then you start to wonder that if Mumbai tops the country, just how bad must the other cities be?

Be that as it may, the focus of this column is Mumbai and as a denizen of this city one has to be necessarily selfish in wanting the best to be really that – not some meaningless statistic.

It would be a pyrrhic victory if the authorities were to go strictly by just national ranking instead of locating it globally. Liveability is the ultimate determinant of how good a city is.

Making a city where people are hassle-free and improving quality of life is the essential function of urban governance. In that respect Mumbai still falls desperately short of expectations.

From the southern tip at the Gateway of India where the jetty for boats is unaesthetic and archaic, through the length and breadth of the city where buildings have been developed cheek by jowl, there is clear absence of thought about urban well being.

The fight for saving the green lungs – largely ignored, but so vital to the city – remains a perennial battle. Contesting the need for a railway line running through the Borivli National Park is a new case in point.

Hardly has that begun than there’s a double whammy: three hectares of land from Aarey Milk Colony are going to be given to make a depot for the Metro railway even as experts in such matters are waving the red flag.

I am listing only a couple of issues, but there are several where the authorities in charge of governance in this city – the state government and the BMC particularly – must put their attention and effort.

This is hardly rocket science. But our elected representatives seem consumed by divisive and distractive issues, even leading to unseemly pandemonium in the Assembly this week. This doesn’t augur well.

Unless there is a genuine intent for improvement, Mumbai will continue to languish at the global level. The number 1 status in City Systems surveys will only be a smokescreen for incompetence.

P S: On a different scale, another survey released last week bears telling here. It is the World Happiness Report 2016 published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), which is an initiative of the United Nations.

This survey which uses GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support and freedom to make life choices as ‘happiness’ indicators. Denmark tops the charts and India ranks India 118 out of 156 countries.

The slip from the previous year is just one place, but what is pertinent is that countries like Somalia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh rank higher.

There is a message there somewhere.

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