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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Wealthy Mumbai tarnished bygrimy reputation

mumbai Updated: Mar 08, 2019 00:38 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai  has slipped from 18 to 49 in the Swacchh Survekshan 2019 survey.
Mumbai has slipped from 18 to 49 in the Swacchh Survekshan 2019 survey.(HT FILE)

The Knight Frank Global Wealth Report released on Wednesday lists Mumbai as the 12th wealthiest in the world – up from no 12 in 2017 – while in the Swacchh Survekshan 2019 survey released on the same day, the city has slumped from 18 to 49.

The Knight Frank report also highlights that the number of millionaires in India has gone up from 2,51,000 in 2013 to 3,26,052 in 2018, with most residing in Mumbai. The city also boasts of the most Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UNHWI), though it cedes ground to Bengaluru where billionaires are concerned, which is an interesting development.

Does it reflect migration of the wealthy, or just that Bengaluru benefits because of its status as the IT hub and a breeding ground for technology start-ups that acquire high value over a period of time? I would venture the second premise is truer, but that is not germane to this article. Under duress it certainly is, but Mumbai is still in the forefront as the commercial capital of the country.

Logically, however, a city that ranks so high in wealth should be in the forefront in cleanliness too. But the Swachhh report debunks this expectation. In fact what it portrays is how Mumbai has been badly let down by the authorities running the city.

Milind Deora, former (and now potential) Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha from Mumbai South, took to Twitter to highlight the failure of the BJP and Shiv Sena, coalition partners in the Maharashtra Assembly and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), for bringing the city to this poor situation.

This is election season – any opportunity for scoring brownie points can’t be ignored, so Deora’s pot shot is not unexpected. But the truth-value of his criticism is contestable. Even Deora will agree that ever since Maharashtra was created, political dispensations, including his own party, which have ruled the state have exploited Mumbai without giving the city its due.

If Mumbai has still retained its pre-eminence and attracted people from all over the country, it is because no other city has afforded so much livelihood opportunity and its unique cosmopolitanism (frequently under pressure in the last 3-4 decades) gave it an ethos unlike any other in India.

Where livability and aesthetics is concerned, however, Mumbai has diminished considerably. Its natural beauty, enhanced by a magnificent coastline, has been stymied by rampant land grabbing, infrastructure is overburdened, and most services – health, education, etc – have seen a downward spiral.

Development (and redevelopment) has been haphazard and driven by the urge to make moolah at the cost of all else, mitigating the importance of visionary urban planning, ignoring the threat of pollution, not safeguarding the environment  and generally caring two hoots about the people.

All this had to impact cleanliness too. It is a bitter irony that while Maharashtra ranks no 3 among all states, Mumbai, which should have been a showcase city for the country and the world, limps in so low. Is there a way out of this miasma of neglect? Interestingly, the path to redemption comes from the fine print of the Swachhh report. For this, the onus would shift, to a large extent, on the people of the city.

The need to strive for public cleanliness is self-evident in which there is admittedly a shortcoming. However, the Swachhh report says that Mumbai’s ranking would have improved on two counts: One, if the BMC collected at least partial user fees for solid waste collection and processes attached with it. Second, the ‘three-star’ rating in the survey was denied to Mumbai because of inadequate citizen feedback.

Both these involve citizen participation. While the first requires administrative fine-tuning, the second should actually be a no-brainer, and it is surprising that Mumbaiites have not been pro-active in forcing authorities to run the city better. The world’s best cities derive their strength from active citizenry and don’t depend only on authority. Elected representatives – assembly and municipal corporations in this case – are obligated to those who put them in office.

It is not just the right, but the duty of citizens to haul them up, demand improvement and betterment for their lives. Being mute allows those in authority to become moribund or chase other pursuits. The result of that is, as we see in the Swachh report, a shameful ranking.

Time to speak up!

First Published: Mar 08, 2019 00:36 IST

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