At the southernmost tip of Mumbai, the Nariman Point precinct has for decades been India’s symbol of corporate power. A large but nondescript building, also in the area, is the seat of government of Maharashtra. The top three floors of this secured building, the Mantralaya, were gutted in an inferno last week; the blaze claimed five lives, turned thousands of precious documents to ashes and rendered unusable half-a-dozen offices, including those of the chief minister and his deputy. A precious half hour passed before the first fire engine reached the spot; it was another 15-20 minutes before a fire engine with a snorkel arrived.
Two stories The Mumbai cityscape is a cliche of contrasts
Mumbai should not have been on the brink of a collapse, considering its future has occupied the time and energies of successive state and central governments for over two decades. Yet, it is. It’s a mess of unplanned, haphazard, real estate-led growth, its physical infrastructure at variance with the dynamism, innovations and entrepreneurship of Mumbaikars.
These sentiments were empirically confirmed in a report prepared for Bombay First—a corporate initiative responsible for the Vision Mumbai document which laid the foundation for several infrastructure investments. The report spoke of “visible evidence of poor quality of life, both in absolute terms and in comparison with other cities” and “transactional experiences” of its citizens and administrators. The Vision Mumbai document, prepared by McKinsey, was rightly rubbished for its elitist approach to the city’s growth but it had spoken of Mumbai’s possible collapse if certain steps were not taken in the decade ending 2013. Union cabinet minister Sharad Pawar too referred to such a “collapse” last month but quite opportunistically, blamed it all on Congress ministers in the alliance government.
From a diligently planned city during the British era, Mumbai’s growth in the last decade and half has been rather accidental and ad hoc; it happened despite, rather than because of, planning authorities. The municipal corporation’s planning department was rendered useless as the state government—under its urban development department—set up semi-autonomous institutions that concentrated on project-planning instead of holistic city-planning.
“The city has been, disturbingly, fragmented into pieces with exclusive and competing spaces,” says P.K. Das, well-known architect and prime mover behind the city’s open space conservation. “Mumbai is an expanding city with diminishing space. In spite of ‘growth’, democratic space has declined and it’s manifested in the adverse effect on our lives, experiences and relationships.” Housing activists like Simpreet Singh are more acerbic: “There is indeed a plan: it’s to drive away the middle and poor classes outside the city. The government-babu-builder nexus has determined how this city would look and who it’s meant for.”
Space crunch At a typical Mumbai chawl home. (Photograph by Atul Loke)
It’s not that investments haven’t been made into Mumbai, but there has been an unhealthy division of labour: mostly private money goes into developing land, while spending on infrastructure is largely from the government or public-private partnerships. The results have been predictably lopsided. With billions chasing scarce land, private investors and real estate lobby have made a killing while funding for infrastructure has been tardy and inconsistent. “The need of the hour is to view real estate and infrastructure development cohesively, not as isolated phenomena,” noted Subhankar Mitra, head (strategic consulting), Jones Lang LaSalle, in his recent paper, The Anatomy of Urban Investments in Mumbai.
Besides, ‘infrastructure’ has so far meant physical infrastructure—roads, metros, sealinks—and attention has been lavished on these. Other factors that go into the making of a city—open spaces, healthcare/emergency services, a variety of commons—have been ignored. So too cultural and academic institutions, which act as a city’s internal source of self-directing life-energy by studying and understanding it along social/human parameters, auditing urban development on these bases, and crucially, generating ideas. “I’ve no hesitation in saying we live in a de-intellectualised Bombay,” remarks Dr Aroon Tikekar, president of The Asiatic Society and historian-author. “This de-intellectualisation is across media, academia, literature, culture; not a single institute of repute has been set up here for liberal arts, nor a credible think-tank, it has hardly any scholars. All that’s now in Delhi”.
There are parallels for transport; multi-crore, long-gestation transport projects—delayed by years—cater to private transport while the average Mumbaikar still struggles with overcrowded local trains and buses. “It’s shameful that nearly 4,000 people lose their lives every year simply travelling by local trains, this isn’t how global cities manage transport,” argues Badami. “We need investment into low-cost options such as pavements, cycling tracks, Bus Rapid Transit System.”
Besides, any planning for Mumbai will have to place the city in the larger context of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) which includes Thane, Navi Mumbai and far-flung suburbs; a region that’s ten times the size of Mumbai and among the fastest growing urban agglomerations in the world.
Sadly, the political class offers little hope: it’s either the Congress or the NCP back-biting and blaming each other for the mess that’s Mumbai, or it’s Uddhav and Raj Thackeray playing out family politics in the guise of their parties, the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. In fact, Uddhav believes his party, which has been in control of the municipal corporation for nearly 20 years, has done “a good job” and Mumbai’s crises are the handiwork of “a corrupt Congress-NCP government”. Such belief is a refusal to accept the city’s downslide.
Perhaps the city requires, as Tikekar suggests, a minister in the Maharashtra cabinet. It’s a politically volatile idea but it may just help the city pull back from the brink.
As someone Bombay-born and -bred, I am greatly saddened at the decline and fall of this great city (Sing No More the Mumbai Malhar, July 9). The downfall began in the early ’70s, when Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade were developed and, instead of world-class infrastructure, hideous looking high-rises came up on the reclaimed land, now occupied by the elite and the world’s leading bank and financial institutions. Worse, urban infrastructure has not been developed: millions commute daily in abominable conditions and the city is sinking into a slum-infested morass of its own making. Gone forever are the Sizzler at the old Excelsior cinema, Gourdons, Bombellis and the other wonderful places that made Bombay unique. Farewell, Bombay. RIP.
Sanjay Modak, Hong Kong
The plight of Mumbai—and other such mega-cities—may be attributed to the ludicrous explosion of population. Growing populations—together with “de-intellectualisation”, which you mention in the article—make for votebanks that can be easily manipulated. The political class is unlikely to address the problem. As for the so-called educated and intellectual classes, we choose to live our comfortable lives, ignoring the obvious, or voicing our opinions via articles or comments like this but doing little else.
‘Anarquei’, on e-mail
Mumbai is on the verge of being admitted to the ICU. Water is poorly managed. The police, rather than take the effective crime-control route of beat patrolling, spends energy on curbing nightlife and moral policing. And your photos depict all too well the dismal state of housing in the city. The less said about Mumbai’s transportation problems, the better: no one seems to focus on the majority, which uses public transport, bicycles, or walks.
Sudhir Badami, Mumbai
The former presidencies of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras should have been made into union territories to retain their cosmopolitan character. Integration on the basis of language has ensured the laying-to-waste of the inclusive culture and ethos of these cities.
Ganesh Natrajan, Isere, France
The damage done to Mumbai is irreparable and the people to be blamed are its politicians, industrialists, celebrities, artistes—and the common man. Everyone took all they could from Mumbai and gave nothing in return. And to think the city is home to one of the world’s richest men!
K.C. Kumar, Bangalore
Mumbai is the city of slumdogs and millionaires—with only fictional characters common to both groups.
K. Suresh, Bangalore
Sad to read about the decline of my favourite Indian city.
Not Singapore or Shanghai, Mumbai should look to Delhi and its continual transformation into a world-class city.
Ashok Lal, Mumbai
A frequent visitor to Mumbai, I still rank it higher than Delhi, and of course, much higher than Calcutta. But though I’d like to move there, I just can’t afford it: the city is pricing itself to its own doom.
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong
It is a well know fact that each and every problem, whether it is social, economic or law and order related in Mumbai as well as in the rest of India can be attributed to the ludicrous explosion of the population we seem to be experiencing. This is not a new issue but it is one that has plagued our nation for decades. The government had introduced reforms in the 70's and 80's to curb this problem, however in recent times there has been no such efforts. This is mainly due to the vested interests of the ruling political classes. You see this population explosion mainly occurs in economically backward sections of society which comprise mostly of uneducated people, coupled with the growing 'de-intellectualization' of society mentioned in the article above makes for a series of vote banks that can be easily manipulated. Hence any action or so called 'reforms' initiated by the political classes is mainly focused on controlling these vote banks(which in most cases are clearly the majority) as opposed to doing any good, hence gaining absolute control.
Having said all the above, we also need to realize that we, the so called educated and intellectual classes are partly to be blamed for this metropolitan atrophy. Most of us choose to be content with living our comfortable lives by ignoring the obvious, while few of us merely voice our opinions through articles and comments like these. We need to do a lot more, it is time we wake up and smell the stench of Mumbai.
Mumbai - City of Slumdogs and Millionaires with only a fictional character common to both groups.
The biggest problem not only of Mumbai but of India is clearly depicted through the photograph attached with this article. Even in this limited space the person has been successfully able to add five (or is it six) members to India's population.
I am Bombay born and bred and am greatly saddened to see the decline and now fall of this once great city. The decline began in the early 1970's when Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade were developed. Instead of building world class infrastructure on reclaimed land, hideous looking 9 and 10 storey buildings resembling blocks of flats came up and are now occupied by the world's leading banks and financial institutions (N. Point) and Bombay's elite households (C. Parade). After this it was all downhill for this city which had the will and spirit to become another Hong Kong but was denied this by being ruled by one corrupt and inefficient government after the other - starting with VP Naik's Congress government and ending with narrow-minded regional parties who changed the name and with it, the cosmopolitan ethos of the city forever. Lacking any sort of modern urban infrastructure and with millions commuting daily in abominable conditions on the traditional N-S axis, Bombay is sinking into a slum-infested morass of its own making. A city is great when you can walk safely and comfortably within its precincts (Beijing can never be a great city because you cannot walk there). In Bombay, you are overcome by the stench of faeces mingled with diesel fumes, accosted by beggars and touts and find yourself tripping over dug up pavements that once were pristine. Gone forever are places like the Sizzler at the old Excelsior theatre, Gourdon's at Churchgate, Bombellis at Churchgate and Breachcandy and various other wonderful places which made Bombay unique in India. The double decker buses are on their way out too, I have observed. Farewell Bombay. RIP.
The only solution seems to me is releasing city administrations from the crunch of state governments.
Seems it is only India where city authorities are powerless.
Few months ago we heard same about New Delhi, where there are so many different authorities that no one knows who is responsible for what?
At the end, whole root cause goes to centralised power structure. Unless and until such drastic reforms are not taken, such as Decentralisation, police reform, etc; I have very little hope for India.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT