Infrastructure projects  for the rich,  dust and suffocation for the poor

Metro Construction

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

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