Mumbai North-East, a constituency of 16.29 lakh voters spread over 115 sq kms of area, symbolizes the dichotomy of development in the city. On the one hand, it is home to prime real estate in some areas where people have benefited from Mumbai’s key infrastructure projects. On the other hand, there are massive rehabilitation projects in other pockets for those who have given their land and homes for this growth.
It has some of the city’s fastest growing suburbs and real estate hot spots like Ghatkopar, Vikhroli, Bhandup and Mulund, which have benefited from the city’s ambitious transformation programme of building new roads like the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road and the Eastern Freeway project and new transportation systems like the Metro.
However, the constituency also includes areas like Mankhurd, Shivaji Nagar and Govandi, which are among the poorest areas of the city and home to some of the biggest rehabilitation projects meant for people who were relocated to make way for mega infrastructure projects.
The constituency is presently represented by Sanjay Dina Patil of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), who won the 2009 Lok Sabha polls by a slender margin of 2,933 votes, defeating his BJP rival Kirit Somaiya in a three-cornered fight in which Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS’s) Shishir Shinde polled 1.15 lakh votes.
What makes Patil’s victory unique is the fact that he managed to get the highest number of votes only in Mankhurd, which is one of the six Assembly seats in the constituency. In all the other five Assembly seats of Ghatkopar (East), Ghatkopar (West), Bhandup (West), Vikhroli and Mulund, he trailed his opponents. Also, all six Assembly seats in his Lok Sabha constituency have been won by opposition parties.
Patil’s tenuous hold on the constituency is further weakened by the emergence of Medha Patkar as the candidate of Aam Aadmi Party. Patkar has a groundswell of support in Mankhurd region, where Patil managed to get the highest number of votes. The inability of most politicians to bridge the glaring divide in the constituency seems to be a major issue in areas like Mankhurd.
“The rehabilitation colonies created are in pathetic shape. There is no sanitation and the situation is no better than slums even though we live in multi-storey buildings. I haven’t seen any elected representative take up the issue,” Jija Sonawane, who works as a house maid and resident of Lalubhai Compound, one of the largest rehabilitation colonies in Mankhurd, says.
Corporator Rais Shaikh, who is now Samajwadi Party’s Lok Sabha candidate from the region, echoes Sonawane’s claims that there have been no major works done to improve health and sanitation conditions. “Sanitation in the area is very poor. We do not have a super-specialty hospital in the entire region. My thrust would be towards improving the living conditions and improving health facilities in the constituency,” Shaikh said.
Other residents also complain about unplanned development. The spiralling cost of real estate has squeezed many people north of Mumbai, making areas like Vikhroli, Bhandup, Kanjurmarg and Mulund city’s new real estate hot spots. Locals complain this unplanned development has made the areas unlivable. “Travelling in areas like Ghatkopar, Vikhroli during peak hours is a nightmare. An MP cannot plan everything, but at least the issues of the inhuman travel conditions need to be brought to the attention of the Centre,” Ashok Joshi, a chartered accountant and resident of Ghatkopar, says.
The area could see a new round of development with 1,300 acres of salt pan land in the constituency set to be opened up for exploitation by 2016, but the region seems to be unprepared for handling this growth. “My main focus will to improve the traffic dispersal systems in the constituency. The constituency is one of the fastest-growing regions and the conditions that people travel in are inhuman. My focus will be on improving railway passenger amenities,” Kirit Somaiya, the BJP’s probable candidate from the constituency, says.
The constituents are also angry with politicians for their handling of the entire forest land issue in which the houses of five lakh residents, many of whom from the constituency, were deemed illegal by the Supreme Court. “The SC recently ruled in our favour, but our experience with politicians on this issue was not very positive. Local representatives failed to take up the issue in the way they should have with the central government,” Hill Side Resident Welfare Association convenor Prakash Padikkal says.
Local MP Sanjay Dina Patil is, however, confident he will win in the upcoming elections. “I have extensively travelled in my constituency and taken up issues of the people to the best of my ability. I am sure I will retain the seat for my party,” Patil said.
However, with a five-cornered contest with old foes like the BJP and the MNS and new entrants like the Aam Aadmi Party, Patil has an uphill task at hand.