Citizens can foil anti-people Projects


  With the harsh political reality we are now faced with   there is a serious need for strong resistance from citizens. This was clear at a public hearing  on the proposed Metro rail line 6 project  in Mumbai  on May 21.

Alert  citizens, architects, engineers, housewives, transport experts  completely exposed the inefficiency and insensitivity in the implementation of the project  and demanded that work on it must be stopped immediately. One felt sorry for the officers, most of them were juniors as the seniors kept away.

The government must realise that there is far more expertise out there in the society than in its administration and  common sense demands that it listens to the voice of  people. It would be good for the administration.  But since the government’s projects are generally mired in corruption and are elitist, the authorities  are afraid of facing the people.

Snehal Basrur, an economics lecturer in a college-turned housewife, said the project was causing great misery to residents with  dust pollution, deafening noise and traffic congestion caused by   barricades which had vastly reduced the carriageway of the  Jogeshwari Vikhroli  link road.

A resident said  his youth was gone in suffering hardships during the construction of this  road and  in old age too he will have to suffer the consequences of the  Metro work on this very road.

Parts of the road were being plunged into darkness or  exposed to  blinding floodlights. There was misery all the way.

It is to the credit of Mr P.K. Sharma, project director, that he  gave replies with much patience, understanding and knowledge as did Mr Vishram Patil,  chief of the social development cell of  MMRDA. But clearly, they had a very weak case.

There was one major flaw in Mr Sharma’s argument and it clearly shows a typical government attitude. He said since the government had  decided on the project, people should accept it and cooperate. The problem is  the government simply cannot be trusted with these white elephant projects. There are low cost options. For example, the mobility problems can be solved  at a fraction of the cost by reducing  congestion on roads and introducing more buses. But who cares for people and simple solutions ?

It was good to read earlier this week about the pedestrianisation of  Ajmal Khan road in Karol Bagh in Delhi. It now looks so pleasant without cars and congestion. It is a win win situation for all. This is a major shopping area. And shop-keepers are also happy as  pedestrianisation  boosts their business as it is so much easier to move about on the street.

On the other hand it is sad that  Mumbai has failed to make  any innovation  in  urban design and transport even though it was a pioneer in the country with its excellent  bus and  suburban railway system.

Not only that the rulers are steadily making living and travelling in Mumbai  unpleasant  with ill-thought, expensive, needless  schemes that only help the rich. There is  definitely an attack on common people. Now, an air conditioned  suburban train is to be run and look at the consequences. For the comfort of a few, a large majority is to be deprived of service.Twelve rgular services will be cancelled  to accommodate one a.c. train.  The  rulers seem to make the same logic as the wicked one  made by the French queen –  why don’t  people eat cake if they can’t have bread.

Despite all the limitation of the suburban service, it is still affordable  and during off peak hours travelling can be real fun as one can absorb all the breeze. But of course, most of the time, it is  hell since one has to travel during peak hours.

The authorities  are daily inflicting  more and more hardships on people closing down  old bridges. They have criminally failed to do their basic duty of maintaining , repairing the bridges all these years and for this common people are to pay the price.

At the same time more and more incentives are being given to motorists though  all  norms of  urban transport  lay down that  private cars must be discouraged for  reasons of environment and  reducing congestion.

The problem lies at the highest levels of planning and design and implementation. There is planning but it is meant to be anti-people. This became obvious during a visit to the  headquarters of MMRDA, Mumbai metropolitan regional development authority  in BKC, Bandra Kurla complex, the business district.

It is a spanking new  building of glass and aluminium façade, looks stylish but is clearly not friendly to the environment with heavy reliance on air conditioning.  Common sense shows that this area can do with less air conditioning  as there is good east-west breeze.

Why Mumbai faces a transport crisis can be understood here. One can notice that  it is so motor car-friendly.  Lot of car parking is provided  and officers can even reach the first floor  directly by car to  attend meetings in the big auditorium there. I noticed this when attending  a public hearing on the Metro rail line 6.

It is clear that the officers do not have to slog one bit for travel. Literally next  door is  a fine new  residential building for officers with a fine view of the Mithi river and  mangroves. The river is filthy everywhere else in the metropolis but here it seems  not bad at all and there is no stench one notices elsewhere.

It is not surprising that the  planning is for the benefit of the rich and not the masses. I was shocked to  notice that  right at the entrance of the building. The driveway for cars is so badly designed, it intrudces on the footpath  which is reduced to a dangerous slope.

The MMRDA  as the top most planning body in the state  is supposed to have the best expertise and  provide an example to other civic bodies. How can the authorities flout the most basic  design norms right at the  entrance of the building. And they talk of smart buildings, smart travel and smart cities.

Now that  Mr Ajoy Mehta, municipal commissioner, has  become the chief secretary of the Maharashtra government he may make two little walking trips  a few metres from  Mantralaya, the state government headquartes.

It will be good for the city and for  understanding  transport issues and especially because he says in an interview to  the Times of India  that he would continue to be committed to the city even after retirement.

These walking trips could as well be part of his work. One is to Vidhan Bhavan, the state legislature,  just across the road.  He will then realise what it really means to walk in Mumbai. The stretch upto  Vidhan Bhavan is  almost completely taken over by Metro construction work.  Not complaining about that. The problem is  it leaves  room just for motor cars to pass and none whatsoever for pedestrians.

And this is  the picture in many parts of Mumbai.

The other walking trip would  also be just across the road  to Y.B. Chavan Centre where the bus stop  outside the  Pratishthan  is permanently blocked  by motor cars. So, Mr Mehta can see for himself  how the administration is  totally unfriendly to  bus commuters, BEST undertaking’s operations.

Never have  the city’s administrators treated  common people, commuters  with such contempt. The latest report is about  unusuable , torturous, high steps on railway bridges.

The rot starts from Mantralaya itself. Clearly, there is a lack of  basic understanding of  issues whether of architecture or urban transport.  The recent demolition of  the senselessly built   steps   in the compound during the renovation after the  disastrous fire in Mantralaya shows that. It was a relief recently to see  Mantralaya as it was earlier without those horrible steps  built at the entrance..

New York Mayor De Blasio is coming under attack for  travelling in the environment unfriendly sports utility vehicle SUV to the gym 10 miles away But De Blasio is one of 61 mayors across the country who announced a pledge to adopt and uphold the Paris accord goals. The mayor said pulling out of the deal would be “horribly destructive to the earth.”

So these people do have at least some theoretical understanding of issues while our mayors and bureaucrats seem totally  unaware. Worse, they are deeply insensitive.

Imagine MMRDA, , the highest planning authority for the metropolis, declaring it  intends to do away with roofs on pedestrian bridges  as these add to the weight.

So one  inefficiency is to be dealt with another  inefficiency and an act of cruelty to the common people.That is what administration has been reduced to.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratization of urban transport and street life


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