bandra

   What kind of Swachh Bharat and  modern urbanisation we are creating ? Let us start with Bandra suburban station in Mumbai, one of the  oldest and prized heritage  stone  buildings, with   its red tile roof.

A perfectly  functioning toilet for men and women   here  was demolished recently  and  now there is  no toilet, urinal of any kind  on any of the seven platforms on this important station. This is a  gateway to the Bandra Kurla  financial and business centre.

So now for thousands of users of the station, there is only one single toilet seat on platform number 1. It is meant for the handicapped and physically challenged  and it is thrown open to all, men and women, thousands of them. No urinal is there at all, just to drive home the point further.

This has been done without any information to commuters, any apology, any  indication of why this has been done,  or letting us know when the new  toilet block will open . It may take years. One does not know.

Outside the station  the bus system has been thrown into quite a  mess with  new bus shelters  which are so badly designed it is a torture to sit on the bench. This has happened despite  earlier warnings,   appeals to the authorities to avoid  the mistakes committed in  earlier  bus stops which were designed to serve the interests of advertisers  and in the process  they have caused pain to the users.

Mumbai is  now becoming dirty and ugly  because of the rich. Formerly slum dwellers were  made the scapegoat. But increasingly it is now clear  that the rich are responsible for the mess and they too are realising this.

Look at any average street, the  margins are littered with dust laden, abandoned dirty motor cars. The police and the municipal corporation have no clue to what to do with them. They have the powers to auction them  but  they just do not want to act.

Every new  luxury building coming up even in posh areas  causes such deafening noise and other  nuisance that the  new police commissioner, Sanjay Pandey, a rare, honest soul,  has made it a priority to  ask them to curb the noise. But this is easier said than done.

The glass and cement structures are monotonous, prosaic, drab and the whole  purpose of living in  a modern city is being defeated. They present a dull  façade, all that you see at the entrance  are blank walls behind which  there are   car parking areas. You have to struggle to find human beings here in the building.  There can be no  community life on such a street, only utter sense of alienation.

Corrupt municipal officials and corporators are destroying  good public park in the name of redevelopment, leaving them abandoned for months and years and then spending large amounts  in remaking them. Money is the main consideration, not serving the public.

Fires in high rise buildings and shopping malls are now routine with flagrant  violations. The fire brigade jawans are losing life and the system simply does not have the technical wherewithal to deal with the menace.

Even in a  much better administered city like London there are serious problems of fire  as is clear from the widely publicised   fire in Grenfell Towers.

On 14 June 2017, a high-rise fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North KensingtonWest London, 72 people died, including two who later died in hospital. More than 70 others were injured and 223 people escaped. It was the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since the 1988 Piper Alpha oil-platform disaster and the worst UK residential fire since World War II.

The fire was started by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. It spread rapidly up the building’s exterior, bringing fire and smoke to all the residential floors. This was due to the building’s cladding and the external insulation, since the air gap between them enabled the stack effect. The fire burned for about 60 hours before finally being extinguished. More than 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines from stations across London were involved in efforts to control the fire and rescue residents.

This was mainly in  housing for the underprivileged. And this has important lessons for  India.  In London there was a furore, a big inquiry, in Mumbai  deaths in such fires are quickly forgotten, ignored.

In Mumbai  people displaced  from their dwellings  and  their land  taken away  for infrastructure are being housed in high rises  where  the poor find it  very difficult to  pay maintenance. So the lifts go out of order and life becomes difficult, they also are now far away from their source of livelihood.

The model of housing the poor in high rises initiated in the U.S.in the fifties failed badly but  we have not learnt any lesson here. Look at the  failure of  Pruitt–Igoe  joint urban housing projects first occupied in 1954  in the US city of St. LouisMissouri. Living conditions in Pruitt–Igoe began to decline soon after completion in 1956. By the late 1960s, the complex had become internationally infamous for its poverty, crime and racial segregation. The 11-story high rises within the complex almost exclusively accommodated African-Americans. All 33 buildings were demolished with explosives in the mid-1970s, and the project has come to represent some of the failures of urban renewal, public-policy planning and public housing, experts point out.

A vicious attempt is now being made to displace the poor from the  widely known Dharavi slum in Mumbai  as  the rich want to take over the prime land in the centre of the metropolis  mainly for their own luxury buildings.  I have walked in the slum. Not all of it is dirty.  Thousands live in the congested surroundings because  here they also work in their own dwellings or  just near them. In high rises they will lose their livelihood.

But  the mad pace with which  high rise constructions for the rich are   being promoted means more and more  rich are going to grab our precious space and  throw out the poor to far  flung areas imposing a tough travel regime on them while  making life cosy for the   wealthy.

A look  at  the sprawling  Godrej industrial area and Pirojsha  Nagar in Vikhroli  and  Kannamwar Nagar, the very large  housing board or  MHADA   colony on the other  side of the highway   is instructive. One never fails to be overawed by the large expanse of  Godrej if one travels by train, it  extends almost from   Ghatkopar station to Vikhroli, all the way one sees nothing but  the  housing colony or the industrial empire or its remains.

The whole industrial character of  Godrej   complex formerly known for its manufacture of soaps, locks, fridges  and so on  is now giving way to   high rises for  the  wealthy.  And   Kannamwar  Nagar,  formerly built for the poor and the middle class is now giving way to  redevelopment, meaning really housing for the rich  with  the brother of   a Sena leader turning into a big builder and there are others in the field.

These are all political decisions.  If  you increase the onslaught of the rich at such a scale, the demand for jobs at the lower level is bound to grow and that means influx of more people. Also, there is the idea to drive out people from the rural areas into ghettos  in urban areas and capture  the abundant  rural land for  the exploiting classes. Slums are a direct result of   unjust policies.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the Era of Climate Change


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