Representing the city’s North Central seat, Cong MP Priya Dutt has spent almost the entire MPLAD fund, but that has not helped much in reducing the disparity between slum-ridden Bandra (E) and upscale Bandra (W).
With just a sole toilet between 600-odd families, no school or public health centre in the vicinity and mounds of rotting garbage strewn across the open ground and water mains running through this slum, Gareeb Nagar on the east side of the Bandra railway station is a far cry from the swanky neighbourhood that lies to the west.
This unevenness of the urban landscape is reflected in the opinion residents on either side hold about their MP Priya Dutt. In upscale Bandra west, the residents perceive their two-term MP to be approachable, unassuming and rising above political shenanigans. They credit her with facilitating meetings with the highest levels of state government on the issue of the underground metro at Linking Road or protection of heritage structures and actively engaging with citizens’ groups in debates such as the Nagar Raj Bill. However, residents of the predominantly Muslim settlement of Gareeb Nagar, who rebuilt their shanties after it was gutted in an inferno two years ago, say that Dutt is thriving merely on the goodwill created by her late father, four-time MP and veteran actor Sunil Dutt.
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“For months after the mishap, we had to put up with a scattered existence and finally built our homes merely due to support from our community. Even now, our slum lacks the most basic amenities, but our MP hasn’t set her foot inside our slum,” said resident MD Irshad. It was Gareeb Nagar where senior Dutt famously lay down before a civic bulldozer to protect the residents from its onslaught. Here, as in the nearby slum enclave of Behrampada, residents cannot stop admiring Sunil Dutt. “No one returned empty handed after meeting him. He reached out to people at the most personal level helping them with school admissions, fees or medical care,” said Behrampada resident Nasir Khan.
Pointing to the life size cut-outs of his daughter propped by the local Congress corporator he adds, “That’s a sign that elections are approaching. For four and half years, she was nowhere to be seen in this area except for occasionally gracing the homes of local party workers.”
Dutt dismisses the complaints saying she has put in just as much of an effort at rehabilitating the project affected slum dwellers for the newly inaugurated Sahar elevated road, has used her MPLAD funds for providing computer labs and solar lights in slum pockets, pushed for the case of slums on Central government lands as she has worked towards beautifying the sea-side promenades and open spaces of Bandra west. “My father had a great following in the slums as people shared an emotional bond with him. I get my value system from him but I have tried to get out of the mould in which my father worked,” said Dutt.
With elections on the horizon even the single Sunday that she is in Mumbai, between attending parliament sessions, she has to be on the move. Her day starts with attending a medical camp at the Kherwadi, followed by a quick visit to the Gyaneshwar Nagar slums where a party loyalist’s daughter is getting married, to inaugurating a party office at Santacruz where locals from the Shastri Nagar slums mob her with civic complaints before going back to her two children at her Imperial Heights residence at Pali Hill.
Dutt’s MPLAD fund utilisation is amongst the highest of all MPs; the pattern of spending is not much different, as much of it has been allotted to areas that overlap with the jurisdiction of local corporators or MLAs. “A common man is not concerned with the difference between an MP and a corporator. He just wants his political representative to solve his problems of garbage disposal, toilets, drains and water pipelines,” she said. While she has allotted funds in almost equal measures across all her MLA constituencies, grouses abound in areas such as Kurla and Chandivli.
These were added to the previous MLA constituencies of Bandra east, Bandra west, Vile Parle and Kalina during this term. “We have tried to take our issues concerning traffic, lack of open spaces and urban planning to her several times but nothing has come out of it. Five years is a long enough time to cultivate a new area,” said Pamela Cheema, local coordinator for the NGO Action for good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI).
Except for introducing private member bills mainly on issues related to women and children, Dutt fares poorly on her performance in Parliament with her contribution to debates, questions and her attendance being way below average. Her political rival from Bandra, BJP Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar, flays Dutt for failing to take up issues concerning Central government agencies. “She has done little for improving railway facilities, rehabilitation of slums in her constituency that are on airport land, defence land or land affected by coastal zone regulations (CRZ).”
Dutt has taken up the cudgels against her own government while raising city-wide issues such as reducing power tariffs in the suburbs or protesting the move to raze the Campa Cola buildings. However, she has been able to do little to control the mushrooming of shanties in her own backyard, especially in Nargis Dutt Nagar that ironically is named after her mother, due to political patronage of those from her own party.