The economy is hit, wake up now , give up fancy projects

bullet train

The onset of the Corona virus and the subsequent lockdown have crippled Maharashtra’s economy and this will impact Mumbai. It has also completely changed the way people think. The Gods have become helpless, they have abandoned the field, they have failed to work miracles, declared an article in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece daily Samnaa written by Sanjay Raut, editor. He is also the man who helped cobble the coalition government in Maharashtra.

This would have been unthinkable some years ago. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s grandfather Prabodhankar was a rationalist but the Shiv Sena became rooted in communalism and regionalism. It has changed a lot unbelievably in the last four months.

The year 2020 marks 50 years of the killing of Krishna Desai, Communist MLA, by Shiv Sena supporters as part of a plan to defeat the militant working class with the active encouragement of at least a section of the business class. In the subsequent years, the trade unions were completely suppressed.. This happened in journalism as well and many, barring a few, did not raise their voice. . With the media virtually blacking out working class struggles and issues, this class became almost invisible to the majority. The capitalist class became dominant. The informal economy became widespread, workers lost all protection and they too became invisible.However, he mass exodus of a huge number migrant workers from the informal economy after the lockdown suddenly brought us face to face with this grim reality.

We need to completely rethink our policies as Jayant Patil, Mahaashtra’s water resource minister , former finance minister and one of the more intelligent politicians, said.

He did not elaborate but he has been warning about certain trends. He had said even before the Corona crisis that the Metro rail projects in Pune and Nagpur may turn out to be white elephants.

The massive Mumbai metro rail project needs to be seriously examined. With the economic crisis where will the funds come from and where will the number of commuters come from in the changed context. With a depressed economy thee will not be those many commuters. The authorities rushed into the projects without any serious thought to finances. They floated ideas like selling the Worli dairy plant land and increasing density through high rise buildings along the Metro route with higher FSI and raising money. But with the now weak economy this may not be possible. Most builders are now drained of funds and there are not enough buyers as well.

The high density scheme imposed on a city with one of the highest densities in the world was itself ill-conceived. With so many luxury flats envisaged, the number of cars would also sharply increase and defeat the whole idea of reducing congestion on roads. All along the Metro enthusiasts have been advancing what is essentially a bogus argument that the Metro will reduce car use but here the authorities are in practice doing exactly the opposite, by promoting density and high rises, they are promoting car use. The real design seems to be to hand over the roads completely to the car lobby and push common people into Metros where they can be herded, disciplined.

With the future of the Metro in doubt now in view of the difficult economic situation, the lack of foresight on the part of the rulers is so obvious. It would have made far far more sense to promote buses which are far more flexible to use than Metro which has a fixed route and the trains cannot reach everywhere, a bus can. That is the big difference. Besides, the bus network costs a fraction. It is criminal to go in for projects that are not only costly but which cause great inconvenience and suffering to people who are already living in great misery.

There is clearly no alternative to environmentally sustainable ideas. We must immediately give up the most shamelessly elitist projects like golf courses and bullet trains. This is not being anti-development, there are much better ways of promoting economic development than wastefully expensive projects like the coastal road. A few years ago some bureaucrats were brazen enough even to actively lobby for a formula 1 race track in Mumbai. What a monstrous waste of money in a poor state it would have been.We already know what a waste the race track has become in Noida near Delhi. The Buddh International Circuit (BIC), which hosted the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix, has been sealed by authorities due to non-payment of dues, according to Autocar India website and other sources.

The Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA) has locked the gates leading to the 5.1Km track and begun preparing a global tender for an auction to recover dues owed to it by developer Jaypee Infratech Limited.

This action, the Hindustan Times said, was taken a month and a half after YEIDA scrapped the lease agreement that allowed sister concern Jaypee International Sports Company access to 1,000 hectares of land. Both companies are part of the Jaypee Group, which built the track and acted as promoters for the Formula One race. What an unforgivable waste of public money.

Wisdom should dawn on authorities now with Corona giving us the realisation that air conditioning is very environment unfriendly. Experts had been saying these things for a long time but they were seen as anti-development. A.C. has limited use, it is all right in hot months but is entirely avoidable in other months. Sadly, even well meaning NGOs, doing good work, are addicted to a.c. comfort. It is time to change this mindset.

The air conditioned trains introduced recently in Mumbai were an insult to users of other trains as one a.c. train disrupted the schedule of several other trains.

Since the importance of the washing of hands is now so well recognised and urgent, immediate steps need to be taken to provide the facility in all public places, especially in railway stations and bus depots. The rulers have shamefully not provided this basic amenity to people. Most municipal toilets, totally inadequate and dirty as they are, are a prime example. The Western railway general manager should be asked to immediately walk across the road from his office in the colonial era headquarters at Churchgate and visit the toilet there. The administration should be really ashamed that it has provided only one toilet for tens of thousands of commuters. It is so narrow, congested. And even this is run as if they are doing a favour to the users. Incidentally, even toilet use is very price sensitive. Many cannot afford to pay even Re 1 for a pee and so there is a long queue for the other section of the toilet which is free. The queue spills on to the concourse.

The railways should immediately vacate some administrative offices from this building and introduce various amenities for commuters.

The authorities need to learn from the Corona experience that we need big open , public, accessible spaces for relief work. So they should give up the short sighted policy of selling government land. Already they have given away several playgrounds , gardens for Metro work robbing ordinary citizens of fresh air. Corona can be stopped from choking people, the question is how to stop the authorities from pursuing policies that result in denying fresh air to the masses.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking a democratic form of urban transport




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