Having won from the Mumbai-North Lok Sabha constituency with over 4.46 lakh votes, BJP MP Gopal Shetty, in an Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor SHUBHANGI KHAPRE, backs the hike in railway fares, advocates striking a balance between environmental concerns and development, and speaks on why BMC officials want the caretaker policy on open spaces to be scrapped.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: How different are issues in your constituency from the rest of Mumbai?
Western suburbs are growing and there are a lot of problems pertaining to infrastructure, connectivity, pipelines etc. We need a multi-specialty hospital in the area. We have to think about the middle class and the upper middle class in addition to the interests of the poor.
SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: As an MP in Mumbai, what is your take on the fare hike announced for railways?
A rickshaw ride in Borivali for 2 kms costs Rs 30, and a 30-km travel till Churchgate by train costs Rs 8. But still, it pinches people. If there is no hike in fares, facilities cannot be provided. It is in the interest for commuters. If we give them good facilities, then the decision is going to pay off. In the case of Metro, the Chief Minister made a statement that BJP is supporting Reliance to increase the fares. I told him if he brings down the fares from Rs 9 to Rs 8, he will have our support.
SANDEEP ASHAR: When you were in opposition, BJP opposed every possible move of the government. Do you think the opposition then was not fair?
As opposition, we have to oppose. Whenever there is price rise, the masses expect us to come out with a statement. The opposition has to play its role. It is in the interests of the people.
SANDEEP ASHAR: What are your expectations from the upcoming budget?
We will have to strike a balance. It has to be in the interests of the common man. We have to improve the country’s condition. I am not promising that everyone is going to be satisfied, but the larger interest has to be kept in mind. Modiji has already thought about it and we will definitely think about the common man’s interests.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: What are the immediate concerns for suburban Railways?
Over 11,000 people have lost their lives in accidents. We have to bring down this number. Within a year, we will see to it that this number dips. The involvement of private parties is essential. We need to improve the condition of toilets and stop trespassing. Involvement of NGOs that are willing to give something towards the society has to be encouraged.
SANDEEP ASHAR: You are an advocate of the caretaker policy on open spaces. How do you react to the BMC’s plan of scrapping it?
I am a vehement supporter of the policy. Suppose someone is developing a property, and if there is no policy, the officials will not get their monetary share. I have seen the corporation very closely. In the corporation one file passes through the hands of many officials, and for granting approval, everyone gets their own piece of the pie. They are not offering the proposals to private players as they know they will not get their commission. To run their shops, they are playing with the lives of innocent people.
MAYURA JANWALKAR: The railways remain the most important mode of north-south connectivity. What do you think are the important projects for north-south connectivity by road?
The Metro and monorail projects have started, and a lot of commuters have shifted from western railway and gone to Metro. We will need to increase connectivity. This is the only solution, be it underground or anything else. Now look at Metro-II. The work has not even begun. It ran into a problem over a car-shed and stopped. After the car shed, it was water from the car-shed entering mangroves. A solution was provided, of letting the water out into the sewer lines. This was a good solution. But even that wasn’t approved. What are these so-called educated people doing? Now it could take five more years. Which means once again our children are deprived of good facilities. People are ready to spend, why should we not get the facility? Isn’t it our fundamental right?
MANASI PHADKE: Now that the Shiv Sena BJP government is in power, will it still take five years for projects to take off?
We can definitely save time and money.
MANASI PHADKE: For which project?
I met MMRDA officials a month ago. They were talking about underground Metro. It is good, but if it is taking too much time and money, why not go for what can be done fast? During Metro-I, there was the problem of slum-dwellers from Kandivali. I gave a speech there saying if the Metro rail came up there, they would get houses, same as they will under SRA. So what is the problem? Today, there are repenting. These things have to be said. And what is there to fear? I speak the same way with everyone.
SANDEEP ASHAR: In a landlocked city like Mumbai, major issues are connected to CRZ. What is your take on CRZ?
There should be CRZ laws. But their interpretation is so wrong today. When this law wasn’t there, the High Court had ruled there would be no construction within 50 meters of mangroves. Then a CRZ law was made. Now officers, for their own benefit, interpret it as they see fit. CRZ laws should be there, mangroves and coastal lands should be saved. But if there are five to ten mangroves coming in the way of a project, they should be cut and 50 more should be planted elsewhere. At least a huge plot of land will be cleared and you will be able to make public utilities. No one says anything when slums come up near mangroves. Entire tracts of land have been taken over in Gorai this way. There should be no self-interest involved. If you want to do something for the country, get four politicians together, talk it out, go out and do it.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: We have been told that there are only four to five politicians who read a project in its entirety, and that very few elected representatives truly have a sense of urban development. Do you think this also affects projects?
Yes. The political system in our country is such that it will take time, but in the years to come, you will see educated people in the political field. In politics today, someone who can’t expect to earn Rs 20,000 a month has the chance to earn Rs 2 lakh, and it doesn’t require much studying or understanding, it just requires voicing opposition in the municipal corporation or in Parliament. This again leads to a lot of problems. In the next ten years, better people will come into politics, but such people will have to be tolerated till then.
SANDEEP ASHAR: Assembly elections are approaching, and the Shiv Sena is demanding that the chief ministerial candidate be theirs. What should the party strategy be now?
Yesterday, we had a meeting. We are an alliance. Decisions should also be taken in alliance. If any party is contesting elections on their own, the party has the right to declare their own candidates. But when you are contesting as an alliance, you should stick together and make decisions. This is what was discussed at the meeting.