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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

One city, one agency could rid Mumbai of its woes

The BMC and the railways are still arguing over their jurisdiction; the need of the hour is a unified authority for the city.

mumbai Updated: Jul 06, 2018 14:38 IST
Sanjana Bhalerao
Sanjana Bhalerao
Hindustan Times
Five people were injured in the collapse.
Five people were injured in the collapse.(HT Photo)

There is a pattern in handling disasters in the city: nodal agencies squabble, political parties exchange barbs, an investigation is ordered and issues remain unresolved.

The latest friction point between agencies is Tuesday’s Andheri bridge collapse in which five people were injured.

Even three days later, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Railways, responsible for the upkeep of the bridge, are still arguing over their jurisdiction.

In the past one year, constant rows among different agencies have cost you potholes-free and flood-free commute, a pathway at the entry/exit of stations, streamlined hawking space — to name a few. “Despite repeated reminders, it is extremely difficult to get a response from any central agency. Tragedies like these highlight coordination issues,” said a senior civic official.

This is not the first time — and alas will not be last — that the BMC and Railways have benefitted from overlapping powers.

When railway tracks are water-logged, both agencies hold each other responsible for failing to clean stormwater drains. To evade responsibility, the BMC, ahead of the monsoon, submitted a list of chronic flooding spots to the railways. “Why is the BMC blamed for all issues in the city? We have maintained roads, stormwater drains, picked up garbage in our jurisdiction,” said a civic official, member of the monsoon preparedness meeting.

“City leaders refuse to learn lessons from repeated incidents. We continue to remain a reactive administration rather than proactive. Mumbai needs a centralised apolitical governance mechanism,” said Shishir Joshi, former CEO of Mumbai First, a not-for-profit think tank.

There are more than 10 local, state and federal agencies in the city. The Shiv Sena-BJP combine has been running for the past two decades.

Other agencies include the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (a special planning authority for areas such as the Bandra-Kurla Complex, Oshiwara), Airports Authority of India, Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority, Slum Rehabilitation Authority, Mumbai Port Trust, Railways, defencebodies, etc.

Efforts to set up a unified authority have been failed because of lack of political will. “There are many autonomous bodies running the state, but there is nobody to anchor Central government agencies in Mumbai. The state chief secretary coordinates between local bodies and the state, but there is no coordination with the Central government agencies. The city needs apolitical appointment or CEO who will report to the state and Centre,” said Jayant Banthia, former chief secretary of the state.

With administrative bickering, can political upmanship be far behind? When the BJP-led state proposed that Mumbai enters the Centre-run Smart Cities competition, it was Sena’s turn to show its clout. It imposed 14 conditions that made it impossible for Mumbai to get selected.

Even before the monsoon hit the city, city mayor and Sena leader Vishwanath Mahadeshwar had said the BMC cannot be held responsible for flooding near chronic spots at Metro sites.

With the BMC and railways at loggerheads, nobody knows who will repair the pedestrian part of the Gokhale bridge and by when it will be ready.

An unseemly tug-of-war ensures that Mumbaiites are being held hostage to their fate over their safety.