Every monsoon, a torrential downpour inundates parts of Mumbai, seriously disrupting the city’s normal life. This triggers a frenzied media attack, an annual feature, on the local and state administrations. “Who is accountable for this mess? Why shouldn’t heads roll? More pothole deaths than deaths by terror”, are questions and issues that are raised. The debates are informed by huge outbursts of anger, harping on the incompetent MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai), rampant corruption and the confusing governance architecture of the city.
One other consequence of Mumbai’s plight during the monsoon is that it invariably evokes a comparison with cities such as London, New York, Singapore and Tokyo. The two major points that are made are the economic and infrastructural efficiency of the cited cities and the quality of life they deliver to their citizens. At the end of it all, save the din and noise of furious outrage, all else ends inconclusively, leading to no meaningful suggestions.
While Mumbai undoubtedly falters on efficiency and quality of life in comparison to the cited global cities, it would be interesting to replace these yardsticks and use another benchmark and see how these cities fare. Let us use the most significant of them to test the cities out — the benchmark of tolerance and inclusion. This is a legitimate benchmark, since all democratic governments globally swear by inclusionary policies. In India, especially, inclusion and tolerance are at the top of the political and social agenda, eclipsing every other issue, including efficiency and quality of life.
It so happens that on this benchmark, Mumbai emerges as the most tolerant and inclusive global city.
Since Independence, Mumbai has allowed free migration with open arms and permitted its population to swell without question. Come one and all, and Mumbai and the MCGM have a place for them — those already in the city can definitely adjust a bit for those from outside. And even better, the MCGM does not insist they have to pay municipal taxes if they choose to land up in slums, on footpaths or below flyovers. A small service charge will do. Mumbai is for free for close to 50 per cent of its population. Some groups of Mumbaikars have squirmed and raised an alarm. But national, state and MCGM policies have been utterly tolerant and inclusive. The four other cities cited for comparison do not come anywhere close. Try in one of them to set up home on a footpath, or in a garden or on the banks of the river, or shores of the sea and find out what grief one would come to. In Mumbai? Don’t ask, just come.
Mumbai’s inclusionary credentials do not end there. If one looks at religion, Mumbai is home to 66 per cent Hindus, 21 per cent Muslims, five per cent Buddhists, four per cent Jains, three per cent Christians, 0.5 per cent Sikhs, and the rest from other religious groups, including one of the largest communities of Parsis and Jews. All of them worship their own gods — in temples, mosques, viharas, churches, fire temples and synagogues. And unmatched by any other city is the regional and cultural diversity of Mumbai. Only 42 per cent are Maharashtrians and 19 per cent are Gujaratis. The rest of them are from the north, south, east, west, north-east and beyond. They speak their own languages (16 counted in the city) and communicate with others in the world’s first city-based language called “Mumbaiya Hindi”, massively popularised by Bollywood films. They even organise their own pujas and festivals, with the “Chhath” constantly increasing in size.
Mumbai’s tolerance and inclusion are further exemplified if we look at how many people other cities hold within their geographical boundaries. Mumbai has accommodated 13 million people at 35 square metres (sqm) per person. If more are willing to come, the city has no problem. Of the 35 sqm allocated to each individual Mumbaikar, the MCGM has left 17 sqm open, five sqm for allowing movement and two sqm for miscellaneous purposes. The selfless Mumbaikar works in an average area of three sqm and lives in an average living area of eight sqm. On the other hand, London has a population of 8.7 million people in a geographical area almost four times that of Mumbai, each person consuming 180 sqm. New York has accommodated a population of 8.1 million in an area three times that of Mumbai at an average of 152 sqm per person. Tokyo with an area of 2,191 sqkm houses about 13.5 million citizens with an area of 162 sqkm per person. Singapore, in an area of 714 sqkm, houses a mere 5.2 million people at an average of 137 sqm per person. If we want to compare these cities to Mumbai, London should get 36.2 million more, New York an additional 26.6 million. Tokyo should add 49.6 million to its current population and Singapore another 15.2 million. Instead, for several decades now, these cities have kept a lid on their population and are exceedingly selective in who comes in. It turns out that all these international cities are highly underpopulated and are beyond comparison with Mumbai. They fail the inclusion test.
Mumbai’s soul of inclusion does not stop at human beings. It is also home to a little more than one 1,00,000 street dogs, apart from pet dogs and cats owned by families and the thousands of buffaloes in the famed “tabelas” of Mumbai. In a spirit of animal inclusion, the MCGM, in partnership with non-governmental organisations, is conducting a sterilisation and immunisation campaign of street dogs at an estimated cost of Rs 15.56 crore. The whole idea is to be kind to the dogs even at the cost of their extreme danger to Mumbaikars. The MCGM has reported in 2016 that between 1994 and 2015, about 1.3 million people had been bitten by street dogs in the city and had resulted in 434 deaths from rabies. This was 14 more than the 422 dead on account of the 1993 and 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Besides, at an estimated average of 180 kg of poop generated by an average dog per year, Mumbai exhibits extreme tolerance in accepting about 18,000 tonnes of poop per year on its streets, footpaths, gardens and any other place that the street dogs fancy relieving themselves in. All this is, however, a small price to pay for the lofty ideal of animal inclusion.
Looking at Mumbai’s performance on the country’s top benchmark of inclusion, no one should keep whining about things that are not of significance in the scheme of things such as efficient service delivery and quality of life. We do not need an expert to tell us that unlimited inclusion on the one hand and efficiency and quality of life on the other do not go together. If one still wishes to contest this statement, stuff another city the way Mumbai is and then see what happens. That would be a fair comparison.