Celebrating May 1 and 50 years of Maharashtra
- Hindustan Times: Pg 1750 years on, the same city and a new debate ............. by Ketaki Ghoge and Rajendra AklekarMUMBAI: A survey by The Economist on the most liveable cities in the world ranked Mumbai at 117. It's been described as the seventh dirtiest city in the world by a sur- vey carried out by Forbes magazine last year and has been ranked 124th out of 130 global cities in hardship ranking by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), London.
Fifty years after the Samyukta (unit- ed) Maharashtra movement firmly placed the city as the capital of the Marathi- speaking state of Maharashtra, the debate over whose Mumbai is it continues.
In the late 1950s, the struggle was not just to reclaim the city for its Marathi- speaking populace, but also to challenge existing hierarchies headed by the indus- trialist-politician nexus to make room for the burgeoning working class.
Today, the debate is about the city's sinking infrastructure, its congestion (every person in Mumbai has only 1.3 sq ft of open space) and its poor standard of living.
The city's elite, intelligentsia and dis- gruntled middle class battling overcrowded local trains, flooded sewers, and hous- ing crunch have argued that the city needs to be granted special status--call it a spe- cial administration zone, a city state or just a city run by a directly elected mayor, a chief executive officer.
Political parties such as the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have thrived on this overwhelming dis- content among Mumbaiites to turn the debate into a narrower, version--Mumbai for the Marathi manoos.
I feel very pessimistic about where Mumbai stands today, said Sharada Dwivedi, conservationist and art historian. We are facing a water crisis and yet there are blatant permissions for new high rises. There is a complete absence of planning in the city.'' Congress Member of Parliament, Milind Deora, has batted for a minister for Mumbai. Well-known jurist, Fali Nariman, wanted Mumbai to be a city-state.
Could governance change if the city had independent status or a CEO? Even if Mumbai gets a special status or is sep- arated as a city-state, it will continue to attract hordes of migrants. It will always be congested,'' said B. Venkatesh Kumar, political analyst.
Vinay Somani, who heads civic organisation Karmayog, said, The city has too many stakeholders, including the 60 per cent of urban poor who live in slums. How is a CEO going to solve all these complex problems?'' The first step forward, experts say, is getting dynamic officials in important agencies such as the BMC and the MMRDA. If dynamic bureaucrats are placed in the right places and given a free hand, they can change the city adminis- tration. But, even that requires serious political will,'' said a senior bureaucrat, requesting anonymity.
Second will be to ensure transparency through more public consultations in all infrastructure projects and policy changes. Instead of sneaking in projects through the backdoor. The state must ensure complete transparency while making big changes by including citizens through mandatory and sincere public hearings and consultations,'' Somani said.
Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh's, public consultations for the Coastal Regulatory Zone amendment and Bt-brinjal are examples.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan agrees.
He recently said the government did not want to foist projects on unwilling citizens. I agree there is need for greater transparency, especially in big infra- structure projects and we plan to do that, Chavan said. I also admit there is some problem in Mumbai's makeover because we have taken up too many projects on hand. From now, priority will be to focus on a few and complete them.'' Chavan has set up a war room on infra- structure. He said the government's first priority will be to increase affordable housing in the city.
But, unless we see some changes in maximum city, the argument over Mumbai will continue.
Whose Mumbai is it? Citizens say Mumbai belongs to anybody who can give us better governance.