Friday, April 15, 2011

Finally Maximum City gets Maximum push! And why Bombay should be an independent city-state....

Bombay is known for its big thinking. It is the financial capital of the 2nd fastest growing major nation (very soon to become the fastest growing!). And yet, its rulers have never ever behaved in a way appropriate with the dreams of this city. For decades, the city has suffered from being a part of a state that has been run inefficiently to say the least. Finally it took the PM to give the push for its renewal some five years back. Now with a smart CM in place (Prithviraj Chauhan is an urban and educated person), we can finally have some hopes that progress will happen.

The statistics are encouraging. Some 330 kms of roads are planned to be built in and around Bombay. This would cost about Rs 34000 crores ($7.5 billion). Interestingly, unlike in other major cities of India, where a series of “inland ring roads” are built to expand the city, Bombay is resorting to a series of “over-the-sea rings”.....a string of roads over the sea to link distant places to one another. The Bandra Worli Sea Link is just 4.7 kms, but it is planned to be extended at both ends. The Worli end will first go to Haji Ali (3.6 kms), Priyadarshini Park on
Napean Sea Road
(2.2 kms), Girgaum Chowpatty (1.2 kms), Nariman Point (5 kms), Cuffe Parade (1.3 kms), Colaba (4 kms).....and then from South Bombay towards Wadala (11 kms), Panjarpol (5 kms) and end at Mankhurd (6 kms) on the East. On the Bandra side, it will extend to Versova (11 kms) and Virar (54 kms). This would be a 109 kms long ring starting from the extreme North point of Virar, extending over the sea to the Southernmost point and then to the East........Then there is the much-needed and very ambitious project of the 23 km long sea-link from Sewri in central Bombay to Nhava on the New Bombay side....a project that can propel this city in one giant leap into the grouping of the best cities worldwide. This sea link would then be extended a further 20 kms to Panvel. There is also the 17 km long Sion-Panvel “over the land” road (since most new projects are over the sea, this “over the land” definition sounds almost quaint!) to be built at a cost of some Rs 1000 crores.

There is a also investment of Rs 10,000 crores in the new metro’s 1st phase (underway) and the now-cleared Rs 12,000 crores in Phase-2. Together, the length of new railway lines laid would be about 43 kms. This is nothing really considering that the Delhi metro is nearly 200 kms long. There is need for much more coverage; much more comfort of travel and much more imagination. Then there are the opportunities offered by sea travel....a well developed means of transport in almost all port cities around the world. But our environmental laws are so outdated that they prohibit even setting up sea-side restaurants and bars; forget building entire transport systems over the sea! Such misplaced concerns for environment have wreaked havoc on the growth of the city. Except for pandering to narrow self-interests, they do the environment no good.

To the politicians and babus, these numbers are staggering; in fact unnerving. To the ambitious citizens of Bombay however, these numbers are mere necessities. The ability of Bombayites to pay higher tolls in return for better services is well known. When the Bombay-Pune expressway became operational, many thought that people would resist paying some Rs 150 rupees toll for a 100 kms stretch of road. But the driving experience; the saving of time is so dramatic (Bombay-Pune is now just a 3 hour journey!), that today, the road has become a lifeline for Bombay. Likewise, when the Bandra-Worli sea link started, there were some doubts about whether it would hit break-even.....the toll of Rs 50 for a short span across the sea was one of the worries. Today, if my numbers are right, there are more than 50,000 cars using the sea link daily and break-even is around the corner! Time is money in this city.....a consideration the babus often fail to make when planning mega projects since they themselves don’t value time that way. People in Bombay don’t pay for distance.....they pay for time. When will our babus understand this???

I suspect there is a reason why Bombay’s infrastructure has been delayed this much. There is probably an unreported scam here (aaaarrrggghhh!). If all the infrastructure had been built early on, wouldn’t the real estate valuations dropped in South Bombay? Why would anyone pay Rs 75000 per square ft to live in South Bombay, if he could live in New Bombay paying one-tenth of that......if the travel time between these two is brought down to say, 30 minutes? I am serious about this.....I think the rich and powerful South Bombayites connived with the Government in delaying the process making much of Bombay into the biggest urban chawl. As per census reports, nearly half the city today lives in slums, a statistic that every proud Bombayite finds difficult to handle. These slums are very different from the slums in any other city.....they house amongst the richest slum dwellers anywhere in the country.....slums in Bombay come with AC and double-storeyed construction! These “slum dwellers” would happily stay away from the central business districts if only their commute times could be reduced.

Brings me to the most contentious issues facing Bombay. Shouldn’t Bombay be made an independent city-state like Delhi, Singapore or Hong Kong? The reasons are simple enough. Bombay needs to be a global city and it needs infrastructure the way global cities have. If it remains a part of the state, it will always get second grade a bulk of the state’s MLAs would come from outside Bombay and would like to spend the monies there. This would starve the city. There is very real and much larger problem of the kind of culture these MLAs from outside thrust on Bombay. We’ve seen the attitude of RR Patil and co in this regard......rather than cleaning up “dance bars” (as much a cultural part of Bombay as Bollywood!), they just shut them down under the garb of morality. Bombay needs its own government, its own resources, and its own culture. Bombay needs politicians and babus with a vision. It should be made into an independent city-state. If need be, it can subsidize the rest of Maharashtra for a few decades....after all, the only hurdle to its independence appears to be the loss of revenues and the impact that would have on the interiors of Maharashtra. Making Bombay independent will also free up the politicians of Maharashtra to focus exclusively on the needs of that state.....but I guess the politicians would rather enjoy the lifestyle of Bombay than spend time in the interiors!

The real truth is that Bombay is an ambitious city in search of an ambitious leadership; a bunch of big thinkers. It needs politicians who see their city being on par with Shanghai and Hong Kong one day. Politicians who don’t look at it just like the proverbial golden goose.....a source of revenue and nothing else. This has to end. And it has to end now.....

1 comment:

  1. You seem to be a big supporter of crony capitalism. Go back to basics. pick up a history book of school level.There you will find that India is a socialist country.
    Revenue collection is a must for the welfare of the nation's masses.
    "It needs politicians who see their city being on par with Shanghai and Hong Kong one day." >> Bull. Thank goodness there are still sensible people around and not everyone is delusional like you.