After listening carefully to a presentation made by MMRDA commissioner Sanjay Mukherjee last evening one would say that life will be getting much worse for common people in the coming years more congestion, more pollution and so on.
The naïve are so thrilled about the prospects of the modern Metro but the shocking news is that even the Central and state governments are not giving the promised funds and so the Metro work is stalled in many places. The hidden truth is that the authorities are entirely, repeat ,entirely clueless about finding funds. MMRDA is itself financially in doldrums and still it has very ambitious schemes. Expenditure on these will badly hit the next generation.
Mr Mukherjee , the chief of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority painted quite a rosy picture of all the infrastructure projects but reading or rather hearing between the lines, it is clear that there will be problems galore.
For example he said last mile connectivity by bus, bicycle, walking will be provided for each Metro rail station but was quick to add that there are problems of finding adequate space. What he did not say is that the entire Metro project is conceived without basic preparations for adequate land and finance. It is a massive failure in this respect. It may prove a success after some years but the costs will be extremely heavy.
It was also clear from his talk that the Metro will not be able to reduce car traffic, people will bring out their cars in the morning and take them home in the evening, he said. Earlier, wild claims were being made about people giving up car use and taking to the Metro. He also admitted that the two new Metro lines had few people riding them.
All the infrastructure projects he talked about are related to the interests of the rich and big builders, the property market. Little for common people. He himself admitted indirectly that common people faced several infrastructure problems. An IAS officer he himself realised, he said, how difficult the problem of housing and school admission was when he was transferred to Mumbai as commissioner of prohibition and excise.
He was gung ho about the success of the BKC Bandra Kurla commercial district , it was making a big contribution to the nation’s GDP, he said. Yet, it has already started facing numerous problems of congestion and access as was mentioned in a question posed to him after his talk. All that he could say by way of solution was to build more flyovers in the area and staggering of office hours.
Far from being a problem solver, Metro is going to involve long walks because of extremely poor planning. The much easier option of strengthen the BEST bus system did not at all figure on his agenda and it is scrupulously neglected, avoided by those in authority out to favour the monstrously burdensome Metro project. So his justification for the long walks was that people should walk 10,000 steps daily in any case. The question is why such examples ae not given to motorists. For them they want to build car parks at some Metro stations and common people are cruelly asked to walk in the most hazardous conditions.
Is the commissioner aware of the plight of people accessing the BKC , the fancy project he talked so much about ? Citizens are insulted day in and day out, there is no proper access to either Bandra or Kurla railway stations, people have to walk a long distance from the bus station in a filthy environment. This is a mockery of the concept of last mile connectivity.
It is clear that the atuhorities have not the slightest idea of serving common people. People don’t need expensive infrastructure, there are simple solutions available. Look at the scene right outside the MSRDC heqdquartes in Bandra Reclamation . I noticed this morning that a nallah right opposite the office is overflowing with garbage, it stinks, it has not been apparently tackled for months if not years. And this is also right next to the huge yard for machinery for Metro rail and other projects. It shows how fraudulent are claims of progress and modern infrastructure. Cement dust outside the site with a big signboard of the contractor J Kumar obviously and dust elsewhere causes severe health problems. So the authorities are creating nuisance for the public actually. And MSSRDC the road construction company is supposed to be a proud symbol of technology and progress when it is responsible for such shoddy work on so many highways.
While coming home from Mr Mukherjee’s presentation in Mulund organised by Marathi daily Loksatta I found a big portion of the congested junction of S.V. road in Bandra was blocked by Metro work. So Metro is actually creating more problems of traffic congestion than solving them. And this is the picture all over.
It was clear from Mr Mukherjee’s talk that we must be prepared for a situation of permanent crisis, chronic congestion. One has to bear this , he said, because we are on the growth path. The question is whose growth ? All this means infrastructure for the upper class and inflicting of pain on common people, they have to pay the price for the luxuries of the rich.
On the issue of Metro, the government policy has been consistently one of bankruptcy. The favourite public private partnership has not worked one bit in Metro 1, it is on the verge of financial bankruptcy despite a big ridership. Even an amateur would understand that the Metro cannot be a profitable venture given its high costs. It is claimed to be a game changer, in reality it is indeed a game changer but in a financially disruptive way.
Mr Mukherjee has suggested that 25 per cent of the Metro cost be borne by the civic body in Mumbai. This is unacceptable by any standards. It would be extremely unwise to place such a needless burden on MCGM . It would make far more sense to spend on the utterly low cost solution of BEST buses. Metro has been wrecking life on a daily basis. The latest assault is that the work has disrupted water supply for large parts of the metropolis for several days.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport