Time to trifurcate Mumbai civic body?
Former Congress minister Naseem Khan proposed to trifurcate the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation into eastern suburbs, western suburbs and the city to the southUpdated: Jan 02, 2018 23:36 IST
Barely a decade ago, the mill land areas of the city were an uncertain entity. There was a bitter battle between high-end builders in the suburbs who were losing out to the ones rushing into textile mills. I remember they used all kinds of ruses, including roping in environmentalists, to stall the development of these vast tracts of land which would put their noses out of business as home buyers and those interested in commercial properties would much prefer proximity to the south end of the city than the distant suburbs. But they were fighting a losing battle. For, after the initial fits and starts, the textile land development took off like a rocket and has completely changed the landscape - and skyscape of the city.
South Bombay somehow today looks rather dog-eared and shabbier than the posh establishments and malls in this area but the furiously paced expansion was also a disaster waiting to happen. Barely three months before the Kamala Mills fire last week, the stampede caused by the collapse of a foot overbridge at Elphinstone Road station had served the city’s guardians ample warning of the growing pressure of population in this part of town which has become not just a much sought-after residential area but has mushrooming commercial spaces. When daytime office workers exit, night owls take over and put equal pressure on the restaurants, bars and discos in various mill buildings, many of which have only been reinforced and not constructed anew to get round the laws governing the redevelopment of textile lands.
As far as I remember, all governments, from the Shiv Sena-BJP in the mid-1990s to the Congress-NCP in later years had decreed that each textile mill area should be divided into three with ample open spaces juxtaposed against housing and commercial properties. One barely sees any adherence to this and, as noted lawyer Abha Singh has said in her letter to the chief minister, last year alone the municipal commissioner sanctioned a dozen or more restaurants at Kamala Mills without paying much heed to safety requirements.
Quite apart from the allegations of graft and dereliction of duty on the part of the municipal authorities, I wonder if it is not high time to reconsider the constitution and structure of the city’s governing authority per se. Bombay has simply grown too big to be governed by one corporation, one commissioner or one mayor alone. While former Congress MP Milind Deora has been calling for a mayor for the city who is directly elected by the people — rather than appointed as a reward by the victorious party’s leader — for reasons of accountability, I believe that will still not solve the problems this mammoth metropolis faces by reason of its sheer size. And these problems are not restricted to just collapsing bridges or restaurants catching fire. Look at the city’s roads — why are they perpetually potholed and in need of repair? There are health issues as well relating to pollution, mosquitoes, inadequate government and municipal hospitals et al. I do not blame the municipal authorities for the sheer scale of the problems is so huge that many crucial issues escape their attention. A single mayor, even if directly elected and wishing to be accountable, will simply be snowed under and unable to administer the city the way it should.
So I would second former Congress minister Naseem Khan’s proposal to trifurcate the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) into eastern suburbs, western suburbs and the city to the south. In fact, the proposal merits a fourth corporation to the north for easy administration.
“Delhi was split up into different corporations, so why not Mumbai?” he asks.
He has a point. Barely 10 days before the Kamala Mills fire, there was an equally major one in a farsan shop in Saki Naka in the northern suburbs in which at least 12 workers sleeping in the loft above were killed. The loft was similarly made of combustible material like the roof of the restaurant which caught fire. Those deaths, however, did not catch the public imagination, perhaps because those who died in the fire were ordinary workers and not the glamorous section of the city population. But the fire was caused by the same negligence to safety norms and those trapped in the loft similarly had no other exit as the diners at the restaurant.
The city is simply bursting at its seams and a singular authority is just not able to keep an eye on everything. Rich, poor or middle class, we all deserve better from our city administrators. The government should seriously consider Khan’s proposal. If they care.