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The great urban divide

As sitting Cong MP Milind Deora is set to fight for the third term from the constituency, voters grapple with persistent problems

Milind Deora, will for the third term test his electoral fortunes as the Congress candidate from Mumbai South in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Milind Deora, will for the third term test his electoral fortunes as the Congress candidate from Mumbai South in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Mumbai South presents a dichotomous set of issues — those of the elite and those that concern the have-nots. As sitting Congress MP Milind Deora is set to fight for the third term from the constituency, voters grapple with persistent problems

If Mumbai South is home to the city’s elite and rich who are most worried about cellphone tower radiation, it also houses 16,000-odd structures that need redevelopment, many of them dilapidated, posing a risk to their residents. In fact, building collapses in south Mumbai claimed more than 100 lives in the last one year, and the city went about its business fighting for illegal flats in Campa Cola compound in Worli. The region epitomises what Mumbai is so notoriously known for — disparity in income levels and the quality of life of residents here. If petty crimes in up-market residential Malabar Hills, Cuffe Parade or the city’s original commercial hub Nariman Point lend themselves to big news, the state of old chawls of Girgaum, matchbox manufacturing units at Kalbadevi, mill lands in Worli and the fishermen colony in Colaba, is quite often ignored.

Milind Deora, 37, Union Minister of State for Information Technology, Communications and Shipping will for the third term test his electoral fortunes as the Congress candidate from Mumbai South in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Shiv Sena, in all probability, will field Arvind Sawant. Unlike last elections, the possibility of a triangular contest will depend a lot on the strength of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Aam Aadmi Party candidates. While former MP Mohan Rawle, expelled from Shiv Sena and hobnobbing with MNS now, or Bala Nandgaonkar (MNS MLA) are seen as potential candidates, AAP has decided to field Meera Sanyal, former chief executive officer of Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Lok Sabha constituency comprising six assembly segments — Colaba, Mumbadevi, Malabar Hill, Byculla, Worli and Sewri — has 14.37 lakh registered voters. The most pressing issues in this constituency relate to dilapidated buildings and redevelopment. Although Deora has been strongly demanding cluster policies for the last 10 years and lists Bhendi Bazaar cluster project as one of his achievements, the residents expect him to take it forward to a logical end.

“Housing is the biggest issue not just in my constituency but the entire city. I am keen to find solutions especially for residents of old chawls. Cluster redevelopment is bound to take time to shape up as large-scale public consultation is required and hasty decisions can make the government seem pro-builder. Moreover, a strong housing regulatory authority is the need of the hour,” Deora said.

The constituency stretching across Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Nariman Point, Churchgate, Fort, Dhobi Talao, Marine Lines, Kalbadevi, Bhuleshwar, Umerkhadi, Mohammed Ali Road, Charni Road, Girgaum, Malabar Hill, Tardeo, Madanpura, Byculla, Dockyard Road, Reay Road, Mumbai Central, Kamathipura, Mahalaxmi, Haji Ali has a cosmopolitan character. Maharashtrians comprise over 40 per cent of the total voters, followed by Gujaratis (over 15 per cent), Rajasthanis (13 per cent), Muslims (12 per cent), North Indians (6 per cent), South Indians (4 per cent) and Parsis and Christians (together a little over 3 per cent).

Every segment has different issues. Bhuleshwar residents are grappling with 5,400 gold smelting units with 2,000 chimneys that emit toxic fumes. The BMC has failed to stop these units despite a city civil court’s order, says Sharad Bansal of the Bhuleshwar Residents’ Association. “A KEM Hospital study shows asthma cases have risen in our area over the years,” he adds.

The crammed bylanes of Kalbadevi, Mohammed Ali Road, Zaveri Bazaar have been awaiting a major overhaul in basic civic amenities for years now, apart from redevelopment of old buildings. BJP’s senior leader Jaywantiben Mehta who lost to Deora in 2004, said, “Deora lacks a personal touch with the voters as he does not make enough rounds in his constituency.

While I do appreciate his annual Youth Parliament initiative, he has been unable to put his weight on the civic body for basic things such as disposal of garbage in house gullies and improving the condition of roads,” she said.

Even as Deora credits himself in getting considerable Central funds to the city under schemes such as the JNNURM, he blames the BMC for inefficiency in utilising the money to implement projects such as BRIMSTOWAD. Indrani Malkani, of the V Citizens Action Network in Malabar Hill, said despite being the MoS Shipping, Deora has hardly done anything to upgrade amenities and security in the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) area. “MbPT is the biggest landholder in the city but is still neglected. Also, the Centre recently curtailed the powers of the MbPT chairman. What has the MP done about this?” she said. Malkani pointed out to the absence of a fire station in Malabar Hill area even after last year’s blaze in Mont Blanc building that claimed seven lives.

Mobile tower radiation is a key issue in Mumbai South. “Being the MoS, I pushed to reduce radiation norms. After two years of efforts, we reduced permissible levels to 1/10th of what they were, setting them among the lowest in the world,” said Deora.

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