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The city is the solution, not the problem

‘Project Mumbai’, as an effort to improve the city, needs to work for the sake of other Indian cities.

Written by Poonam Mahajan | Updated: January 13, 2015 8:34:49 am
tracking transition, project mumbai, praveen yadav Illustration: Praveen Yadav

As soon as Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis spoke of the need to have an empowered committee headed by the prime minister to fast-track infrastructural projects relating to Mumbai, many raised the concern that such a move would alienate Mumbai from Maharashtra. The absurdity of such a concern prompted me to push for increased Union government involvement in the development of my city, Mumbai.

Mumbai accounts for nearly 46 per cent of the country’s economy, contributing 30 per cent to income tax collections, 60 per cent to customs duty collections and 40 per cent to foreign trade. The city’s annual GDP, at $209 billion, is higher than that of any other state, except Maharashtra, (and accounts for nearly 85 per cent of the state’s GDP). In such a scenario, where Mumbai’s contributions to the nation and to Maharashtra are immense, improving the city through Union government intervention will only benefit the country and the state, and not take away from the identity the city shares with the state.

Mumbai holds the distinction of being the wealthiest city in India. However, the city is full of contradictions. While it is the wealthiest city, it is yet to build its infrastructure to world-class levels. Skyscraper-filled skies are marred by a sea of slums. Mumbai is neither healthy nor wealthy in its infrastructure. Mumbai’s infrastructural capabilities need to be enhanced to match the growing economic demands of its population. In order to make Mumbai a leading financial centre of the world, we need a long-term plan that focuses solely on the city’s development. According to the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) 16, Mumbai (61) lags behind cities like Taipei (27), Busan (28), Sao Paulo (34), Tel Aviv (36), Mexico City (44), Rio de Janeiro (45), Bangkok (46), Panama (49) and Casablanca (51).

I have, since the beginning of my term as MP from Mumbai North Central, advocated the need for increased Union government support and presence in Mumbai’s development. Indeed, the importance of Mumbai to the health of the whole nation mandates that the betterment of the city be taken up as an exclusive project — “Project Mumbai”.
Project Mumbai would act as a mechanism for a concentrated focus on the city’s development and provide a timebound plan for the same. The coming together of various agencies and ministries under the state and Central governments would augment the project’s effectiveness. The starting point is to perfect the coordination between the state and Centre, and specifically among various ministries of the Union government.

Mumbai suffered greatly in the past decade due to the lack of coordination between the Union and state governments. In particular, many projects are yet to see the light of day due to the lack of clearance from Central ministries. The Coastal Road Project, one of the most important projects to decongest western Mumbai, has been held up for years and is currently pending approval from the environment ministry. The Sewri-Nhava Sheva Trans-Harbour Link is a critical link between south and north Mumbai — it will play a major role in boosting trade and commerce and will attract investments because it eases the commute to and from central business locations. The trans-harbour project has been pending for a record 30 years now and is currently awaiting clearance from the environment and shipping ministries.

Of the pending projects, transport infrastructure projects such as new metro lines and the revamp of the suburban railway system are of primary concern to Project Mumbai, for it includes the development of not just the city of Mumbai, where most people work, but also the suburban areas, where working Mumbai lives. Apart from this, there is a need to revamp railway infrastructure between Mumbai and the five surrounding municipal corporations of Thane, Navi Mumbai, Bhiwandi, Kalyan-Dombivali and Mira-Bhayandar.

It is in this context that the Maharashtra chief minister proposed setting up an empowered group of ministers, headed by the prime minister, to fast-track infrastructure projects in the city. I believe the same is necessary, keeping in mind the number of pending infrastructure projects and the relevance of Mumbai’s infrastructure development to the city’s growth and that of the nation as a whole.

But is it just the big infrastructure projects that will enable Mumbai to become world-class? Of course not. Project Mumbai needs to be comprehensive in nature and has to focus on a variety of issues, including the conservation of heritage, protection of mangroves, rejuvenation of the Mithi river that flows across the city, preservation of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the creation of a top-class global business hub at the Bandra Kurla Complex.
Two issues are crucial to Mumbai’s development: the provision of affordable housing and planned open spaces within the city. While these two could be hard to achieve, given that the existing per capita open space ratio (area of open space a citizen has access to) is a mere 0.99 square metre, it is the need of the hour. In this context, I am happy to note that the chief minister has announced the increase in the floor space index of up to four for the construction of houses for police and public sector employees.

The development of Mumbai as a world-class city requires multiple structures to come together and a nodal agency with a well-thought-out plan to make Project Mumbai a reality. Moreover, urban management demands the increasingly active participation of all stakeholders, including the public and private sectors, as well as the people of Mumbai. The empowered committee can facilitate such active participation.

Indeed, if Mumbai has to come close to competing with leading global financial centres, such as New York, London, Tokyo and Seoul, and with cities that are likely to become more significant world financial centres in future, like Casablanca, Shanghai and Singapore, the Union government has to play a substantial and coordinated role along with the state government and other authorities. The Maharashtra chief minister’s leap of faith in transforming Mumbai through the empowered group of ministers led by the prime minister is laudable and a step in the right direction.

If this mechanism materialises, Mumbai can be an embodiment of reinvention that leads to the broad participation of all stakeholders in deciding its future, along with sustainable living and a harmonious relationship of the city’s past with the present, thereby serving as an inspiration for other cities in India to undergo a transformation. As renowned urban planner, architect and former mayor of the Brazilian city of Curitiba Jaime Lerner said, “Cities are not the problem. They are the solution.”

The writer is a Lok Sabha MP from the BJP.

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