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It is time Mumbai’s new municipal commissioner Pravin Pardeshi convenes a meeting of citizens to discuss ways to take the city out of the mess it has landed in.

This was the view at a meeting of citizens including structural engineers, architects, planners and activists at Moneylife Foundation in Dadar. The point made by prominent structural engineer Alpa Sheth that Mumbai is now utterly leaderless and it is now almost a banana city like a banana republic was widely shared by many.

It is extremely disgraceful for the administration that Mumbai is now the most congested city in the world. Disgraceful because Mumbai had such an outstanding public transport system which the administration has wrecked through planning for motor cars while almost targeting common people with contempt..

That apart the sins of the administration in the past are now visiting and causing extreme inconvenience to citizens with bridges collapsing and the administration closing roads and bridges without any notice.

So inept is traffic management that a single one day match at Wankhede stadium or an Id day visit by people to the Haji Ali dargah can disrupt roads for hours. Congestion is unpardonable near Wankhede because it is next to the Churchgate terminus and the police could easily ask motorists to use the suburban rail transport or the bus system.

It is going to be really horrible for ordinary people in the approaching monsoon. Motorists caught in traffic jams are at least ensconced in air conditioned comfort. Ordinary people will have to walk amidst slush and water as Metro construction work has wrecked footpaths in most areas and citizens are now made to walk on the road like some some inferior species heads bent finding way ahead amidst the chaos.

We have a truly brutal, anti people traffic system that gives just five seconds at some traffic signals for pedestrians to cross. Adding to the nightmare, vehicles start rushing and do not wait even for a second. So the entire exercise is utterly cruel.

The general feeling is that the administration whether at the state or city level simply does not have the competence to deal with problems increasingly becoming complex. The administration should realise that the old days of bossing over people, treating them as subjects are gone. Officers need to listen to people. There is much more expertise out there among people. Our IAS officers may be bright in some ways. But now problems are too complex and there is need for involvement of common people in solving problems.

Mr Pardeshi, the new commissioner, has begun his career by dealing as district collector with a crisis, the Latur earthequake in which 10,000 people were killed and some 30,000 injured. I have seen his rehabilitation work there.

Of the 10 most congested cities in the world, Mumbai has the oldest public transport system. The other cities include Bogota, Lima, New Delhi, Moscow, Istanbul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Mexico city and Recife in Brazil in that order.

Bogota is a surprise in this list because its bus rapid transport system Transmilano is famous. Also Delhi has fared badly despite the Metro system the rulers boast about. Also, Moscow despite its beautiful Metro whose stations range from beautiful to breathless with their mosaic, murals and chandeliers. The lesson here is that no amount of BRT or metro rail will help unless you reduce the number of cars on the road, impose traffic congestion charges.

London is famous for its congestion charge and the Indian mission in the city owes six million pounds in congestion tax as a front page report in the Times of India today points out.

The Mumbai administration needs to learn from London, especially because it has now a collaboration with Transport for London. cities in India. The civic administration in Delhi has done well to announce free travel for women in buses and Metro trains. The administration will bear the expenses. On the other hand, the civic administration in Mumbai has systematically weakened the BEST bus undertaking, starved it of funds and humiliated its users by failure to provide basic amenities.

The city can certain afford to subsidise public transport. The authorities have enough money. The question is how to use it widely. The amount locked in wilful defaulting corporate ventures runs into one lakh crore rupees. So, they should stop criticising the so called freebies for common people. Besides, public transport is so crucial for public health, reducing pollution and road congestion. So benefits completely negate all objections. Do these wiseacres realise that a simple act of breathing air is now hazardous because of the pollution and the way forward is reducing it through public transport.

There are serious sins of commission. High rise buildings and proliferating motor cars are putting an unbearable burden on roads.This is most visible in the former textile mill areas from where the poor have been evicted to make way for luxury residential and corporate buildings. Worse, this has been done without any traffic planning. Building any number of fancy and wasteful roads like the coastal road will not help because these will never be able to tackle local traffic problems in such areas.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist vision was wrecked by the Congress government itself as is visible from the intolerable jungle of high rises coming up in the vicinity of Nehru Centre in Worli. And the assault continues.

Among those present at yesterday’s meeting was reputed structural engineer and urban planner Shirish Patel. He said the civic body ought to interact with experts outside.

Mr Chandrashekhar Khandekar, a former chief engineer of the civic corporation, said the footover bridge at CST need not have been demolished. It could have been repaired after the partial collapse. After the meeting I walked with him upto Dadar railway station, a distance of almost one km. from where he took a suburban train to his Goregaon residence. If a person so high up in the administration at one time can take to public transport, there is no reason why other motorists cannot do this at least once in a while. Curbing the car culture is essential for saving Mumbai.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking a democratic urban environment as opposed to the car-oriented model of development


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