Pity the rich, wrote American popular comedian Will Durst recently in a satirical vein. They face too many problems. No body robs the poor but the rich are always afraid of robbers. But actually the rich rob the poor. He then went on to refer to the rich as open cancer sores on the face of society.
One was reminded of this after reading that residents of Altamount road in Mumbai are refusing to pay the municipal corporation for parking of cars on the road. This would not sound so bad if it was not for the fact that these are extremely rich people in a very exclusive area. Property prices here are among the highest in the world.
A person paid a record Rs 125 crore for a house in Lodha Altamount, a building constructed by the company big builder and BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha on this very road last year.
Interestingly, the same Mr Lodha led a delegation of Altamount road residents to the civic body last week to plead that the parking charges be reduced.
It is on this road that Mukesh Ambani lives in his tower. Vipul Ambani , involved in the current PNB banking scam, lived here.
A large number of rich in Mumbai are enjoying a huge subsidy in that they pay a pittance for their residential land at a great cost to the city and the poor. They are also depriving the poor of public space on the road by parking free all these years.
If one looks at media photographs it is clear that the rich residents’ cars are parked on both sides of Altamount road and this is possible because there is no footpath. This is a great injustice to common people who are denied walking space. Is it an accident that the wealthiest areas like Malabar Hill, Cumballa Hill and Pali Hill do not have footpaths ? There is clearly a silent understanding, or shall we say conspiracy , between the rich and the civic body.
There is a clear case of heavy taxation on the land of the rich as suggested by Henry George, a major economist in the U.S. in the 19th century who was a very big name during his time but since he was a radical he has been severely neglected. He came very close to becoming New York’s Mayor, so different was U.S. politics in those days.Trade unions were quite strong. Experts point out that land barons and industrialists, bankers have with their funding changed the direction of economics departments in the universities there to dilute progressive economic research and thinking.
The rich who constantly talk of making Mumbai world class conveniently forget that world class cities are imposing very heavy curbs on car parking.
But the rich can get away with anything, they have all the money for their luxuries but not paying dues to workers. One of the main wealthy restaurant owners in the notorious Kamala Mill fire, has not even deposited workers’ contribution to the provident fund.
And it is now being universally recognized that increasing economic inequalities seriously threaten democracy. Trickle down is not working. Actually, money of the poor is being sucked up by the rich.
And then there is a terrible contradiction the rich and those in government painting a fantastic picture of progress amidst declining quality of life in Mumbai. This was sharply reflected at the global investor summit held at the BKC Bandra Kurla complex ground and inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi earlier last week.
Richard Branson offered to build a futuristic hyperloop promising to carry passengers from the proposed Navi Mumbai airport to Pune in 20 minutes. A memorandum of understanding was signed with him.
Our elites must have been suitably elated while brushing shoulders with Branson. Either they are unaware of his extremely dubious image or they don’t care. He could be considered in some ways a much bigger version of Vijay Mallya as far as women, tax evasion , flamboyance and other factors are involved. Of course, he is much more intelligent and far more successful. He is now projecting himself as a changed man, a benevolent profiteer with a social conscience and concern for the environment.
The Indian media seems to have completely succumbed to his public relations machinery.
He is one of the figures lampooned in David Hare’s acclaimed play Permanent Way which is a severe indictment of the privatization of British railway and since the play of 2004, things are much worse in the U.K.
It all boils down to this . The government wants to resort to grandiose projects, give hyper mobility to the rich with such a fantasy scheme and the morbidly expensive Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. And doing little to solve the basic problems of the masses.
If the worthies had only looked around a bit they would have realized what a hoax is being perpetrated on the common people.
The system cannot even run a proper bus service between BKC and Bandra suburban station or Kurla station, the main access points for thousands of people working in the financial district. This is mainly because of traffic and land use policies of the government.
Many buses which are supposed to take commuters to the stations are actually terminated much before the stations. Either at Bandra court on the highway, quite a distance away from Bandra station or at Kurla depot, a long distance from kurla railway station.. This means people have to walk in the most harrowing squalor, noise and fuel fumes on the road .. There is a plan to pull down the skywalk at Bandra soon which means the plight of commuters will be much worse.
Last mile connectivity is most important in transport. This is being denied to lakhs of commuters all over the metropolis because the whole planning is for private automobiles.
It takes a bus almost half an hour to cover some 200 m. of distance to the station.. It is this kind of inept management that has resulted in slowing of buses, reducing their frequency and running into severe losses. The government and the civic body are responsible mainly while some blame does go BEST.
I am a frequent witness to the scene outside Bandra east station and BKC. Some times, the bus does not even display the destination which adds to the hardships of commuters waiting on the way or at the starting point.
This means needless work for the conductor also, he has to constantly shout, this bus will terminate earlier, will not go to the station and so on. Such are the primitive conditions in which buses are run which shows the extreme incompetence of the ruling class.
Last week I experienced a situation close to a stampede at Bandra station bridge with big crowds coming from opposite direction. It is only the patience and understanding shown by commuters that Mumbai is avoiding frequent disasters.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change