Civic elections not being held in Mumbai, democracy suffers

Mumbai Municipal Corporation

I heard Mumbai municipal commissioner’s Iqbal Singh Chahal’s presentation at an auditorium in Prabhadevi on October 10 and went out for a while. When I came back , I noticed a big empty space, I thought I had come to a wrong place , then realised all the chairs had been mechanically pushed back to the wall with what is known as retractable technology.The hall could now be used as an open space for some other activity.

The trouble is much of this modern technology is being used in the service of the elite and even ordinary services for common people are wantonly denied. And here the civic body comes into the picture. Even the ticket issuing system for the municipal BEST undertaking bus users often runs into technical trouble as does the system of displaying the bus routes. Currently, there is a shortage of Chalo cards , these are convenient for commuters can save a lot of time for conductors. And there are multiple such problems. New technology is in fact used in a way it destroys people’s amenities. There is the stark example right next Ravindra, the public municipal garden named after the revered Sane Guruji has been wrecked for the past few years for the Metro rail work.

The plush , very glossy new hall has been built on the fifth floor of a new building by the Maharashtra government, behind the Ravindra auditorium. Many came to know of it for the first time about its existence two days ago. What was the need for this obvious wastefulness, there are already more than two to three halls in the Ravindra complex itself .

The Mumbai civic body in its 150th year is being run by the government throwing all democratic norms to the wind, in defiance of the Constitutional amendment of decentralisation, we now witness more and more control from above, from Delhi, then a minister has now been allotted a special chamber in the civic building. He would be always welcome for a visit, but why set such precedents ?

Mr Chahal is now an administrator of the publicly elected body, its term ended in March,2022, the ruling dispensation seems to have no plans to hold elections even after such time lapse. So the government can continue with its intervention in an elected body which is self sufficient in funds unlike many other civic bodies.

He is athletic, always turns up in a suit, unlike most predecessors, has an army family background. But he resembles more of a CEO of a corporate company, his espousal of the cause of independent city governance with a single powerful authority, lends credence to this view.

He also appears to be quite obedient to higher authority in keeping with the current atmosphere. In a healthy bureaucratic tradition, he should correct wrong decisions of higher ups, give sound advice, not go along with the current. Unfortunately, he occasionally talked like a politician at an election rally painting all sorts of rosy scenarios, we have been hearing this for decades and have had enough of this. He need not have said like a politician that one can now reach from point a to b in so few minutes or hours. We know this just does not work.

Common people have to negotiate mostly other spaces where the ordeal is increasing daily, these spaces, roads need priority, but all priority is given to motorists and common people are continuously humiliated. After the lecture, incidentally, it was by Loksatta, Marathi daily. I had this experience. In Bandra there is ST Martin’s road, it is quite narrow and till a couple of years ago MCGM had its H West ward office on it. Much of it is not provided a footpath, cars are parked on both sides, now there are those ugly concrete cylindrical monsters as well. The civic body is failing in its most basic duty while it is giving priority to functions it is not all by rules , law obliged to provide. It is squarely and wholly endangering people’s safety Let us get it clear.

The BMC or MCGM is directly answerable to the people of Mumbai on the BEST issue, there is a serious crisis in the bus system currently, people have to spend almost one hour for a bus. This is like an emergency situation on the transport front. But all that we got from the commissioner was the future promise of some 10,000 buses on the road in the next few years. Fine, but what about now ? How do you tell a starving man that he will get a feast in a few years.

People would have tolerated this grave injustice. What the administration does it to rub salt onto the wounds of ordinary people by paying all attention to motorists, car lobbies and their demands while callously ignoring basic needs of common people.

The civic body in an utterly wasteful exercise has spent crores of rupees of public money without any accountability with this organisation called Parking authority which has absolutely nothing to show by way of results. What does one make of the stunning silence of these people. It is headed by Mr Ramanath Jha, a retired bureaucrat.

But Mr Chahal sang praises in support of this ludicrous exercise. He said the authority has identified five million parking spaces in Mumbai, many from housing societies with spare parking space which can be booked on the app in advance. Do the authorities even realise what this means. This means whatever little space there is for children to play will be lost and in fact their lives will be seriously in danger with outsiders bringing their cars and taking them out all the time. As it is there are parking wars all the time in housing societies. Even now chidren’s lives at risk due to cars in the compound, are the authorities unaware of this ? Can they guarantee safety of kids ?

A report in TOI today says there is a decline in road crashes in Mumbai. This may be statistically o.k. but we must remember the date collection is poor and the fall could be because people are simply afraid to venture out. Only a city that can ensure free movement for children can call itself civilised. We are in the barbarian stage on that score.

Besides, many other policies the commissioner gloated over are directly in contravention of the requirements and obligations under the Paris agreement . The authorities seemed amazingly unaware, to use a very mild word, about steps being taken by all good international cities to curb car parking, not provide more and more. For heaven’s sake, get real, that is the least one can say.

Even Sucheta Dalal, the respected journalist and by not means a leftie, has been for years telling us that that high rises built for car parking are running empty and will be later misused for some other purpose. Yet, the commissioner went ahead with singing praise of such high rise parks where the municipality has foolishly spent crores and we all know these are an absolute waste.

Mr Chahal spoke all through in Marathi. He claimed his participation in international conferences made it clear that Mumbai civic body was rendering excellent service, utkrushta seva in Marathi, considering it was such a huge city in comparison to Western cities which were so small.

And what does one make of his statement that municipal school teachers would soon be sent to Cambridge university for training. This is really unbelievable to say the least. We have very good experts here , if only we listen to them. Instead, Heramb Kulkarni, a widely applauded principal of a school in Ahmednagar known for his excellent social work, was seriously attacked last week. Mumbai university itself is in doldrums currently, all this can be easily rectified with local resources.

The only consolation in his presentation was that no more dams would be built for water supply for Mumbai and there would be no cutting of trees. He also said the fixed deposits of MCGM had climbed to Rs. 88,000 crore.. Fine but a lot can be achieved simply by checking needless, ostentatious expenditure. There is no shortage of smart alecs in our bureaucrac, people from IITs, IIMs and with stints in universities abroad. What we need is commitment to people, not to corporates.

And then he strongly supported subsidies for big builders. What can one say about that now ?

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News