The rich are protecting their spaces, the working class should fight for its own

Delhi Metro

The arrogance and extreme incompetence of the Metro railway and municipal authorities is increasingly becoming obvious. In Bangalore a farmer was denied entry into the Metro station last week on the ground that he was not properly dressed, even private clubs with all their arrogance are not so blatant.

One should not blame the security personnel at the Metro station at all, it is the culture at the very top that inculcates such arrogant, anti people ideas.

In many ways such developments are worse than apartheid in South Africa, there it was directed against the race, now in India the exclusion is all pervasive, cutting across the disadvantaged sections.

Even in the U.S. discrimination against the Negroes, as they were then called, was not all pervasive, they were made to sit at the back of buses in cities. That is what Rosa Parks was protesting against in 1955 and that triggered the black liberation movement.

In Mumbai now, the discrimination against ordinary people is so blatant, they are denying bus travel itself to lakhs of people by deliberately neglecting the bus transport system , many would see this is a precursor to force people to travel by Metro railway which is so very badly planned and is going to be a massive financial burden on common people.

The Metro’s claims to modernity are being exposed to ridicule every day. In Pune they have stopped issuing return journey tickets because the system does not allow that. Can these people become more ludicrous ? In our suburban trains return journey tickets are being issues for decades. The Metro cannot do it in today’s digital age is laughable. And they keep talking of a national mobility card with which one can travel in any city in any bus, rail etc. And in reality things are so backward.

The Metro itself has already become a laughing stock. The real need in all cities is really for buses, it is a crying need, yet the authorities in their extreme arrogance and incompetence are denying this, some would say this is because there is little money to be made for expansion of the bus network while all the corruption opportunities are high in the Metro system.

The civic authorites in Mumbai have also exposed themselves to extreme ridicule with the construction of the Gokhale bridge in Andheri. It provides no alignment to the flyover, defeating the whole idea. The authorities claim the drawingd of the flyover bridge were not available for providing the correct height connection again shows their extreme incompetence, the drawings of a road within Mumbai were not available, who will buy such explanations ? The extreme incompetence would not be so annoying if it was not accompanied by arrogance. All the time these people are telling common citizens, not to make suggestions, they do not want to listen to good, free advice, saying they know everything.

Municipal corruption is known since long. But it was never so dangerous and huge as it is now. What they are doing now is they are also destroying the environment in pursuit of big money and robbing citizens of green, open spaces. In the past corruption did no hit common people so hard. The trend is amply clear from the municipal proposal to close down the famous Hanging Garden on Malabar Hill in Mumbai for several years, destroy many trees and rebuild the water reservoirs below, a totally needless exercise actually. But experts have shown that the entire exercise is needless and is motivated by corruption.

I heard a presentation made by experts and public spirited citizens at Press Club. Even granting for the sake of argument that what they say is only partly true, the municipal project appears to be a huge scam.

Ravi Mandrekar is a reputed structural engineer and cricket lover who speaks his mind out without fear, I have written about his book on corruption in cricket, no one dares challenge his arguments.

Am glad senior journalist and Hindustani vocalist Sarosh Bana is raising his voice on the issue on the Malabar Hill issue.

Also deeply worrying is what seems to be a case of complicity of some `experts’ from IIT Mumbai. Sudhir Badami, a structural engineer who studied in IIT Mumbai, says it won’t be proper to come to conclusions. But senior journalist Anil Singh, who is well conversant with several project reports from so called experts from other institutions as well is more blunt, he says these prof just go along with the line taken by the organisations commissioning them.

So there are multiple problems with serious implications for our public life, much serious debate, introspection is needed.

Upper class residents have done well to come together over the dubious plan on the race course at Mahalaxmi and Hanging Gardens. They are protecting the turf. The middle class and other sections need to wake up too, they have much more to lose since the authorities are now so brazenly depriving us of almost every public space on some pretext or the other. The administrators have totally lost credibility. They are gradually closing on our spaces. I see this in the case of a children’s playground in front of a municipal school. First, they enclosed a small section, now they have barricaded a bigger portion, all in the interest of a builder.

AS for the race course, the whole area needs to be turned green, the race course is an anachronism in every way, especially in the heart of the city. In the U.S. even golf courses are being rewilded, as they say, by creating more biodiversity, plants.Golf courses despite their green appearance are environmentally destructive because of their heavy use of chemicals and other factors.

Horse racing is also cruel to animals, it is surprising that most animal lovers in India are silent on cruelty to horses.

Race lovers claim to love horses, really ? if they did one would find them at horse fairs as in Rajasthan or nearer home at Sarangkheda in Nandurbar district which I visited recently . It is a memorable experience. Horse traders, owners come from different parts, mainly from the North . It is a lovely sight. The pricier horses are in proper tents, well fed, looked after , others out in the open. One realises quite an industry is built around the horse, there is so much on sale at stalls including all kinds of food , medicines for horses and decorative stuff, riding gear and so on.

A deep irony has not been noticed in the extreme arrogance and inefficiency of the municipal corporation in Mumbai in respect of the Barfiwala flyover in Andheri. It is that Barfiwala was the founder director of the All India Institute of Local Self Government. It is an organisation which provides training to civic bodies in managing civic affairs.

It is a body with branch offices all over the country and its main office is in Andheri on a road named after Mr Barfiwala. Surely, civic officials have not learnt anything from such training.

Another sacrilege is that the civic authorities have chosen in their pursuit of obvious corruption a garden named after Pherozeshah Mehta, a maker of modern Mumbai and democratic governance.

It is a lovely heritage structure with some gazebos with shelter and benches facing each other where one can relax and sit down. This is exactly the kind of democratic space the vandals in the administration are destroying in other existing gardens and pouring cement and concrete to the detriment of the public and entirely for lining of pockets of contractors.

There is much to learn from the way the Mehta park is laid out. Its lighting is soft not the glaring, blind lighting imposed on some parks by some corrupt politicians and officials.

I saw a fading plaque in the garden with Mr Mehta’s name. The building of the garden on top of the water reservoirs is ideal, it provides a public space and at the same time helps in vastly reducing vaporisation from the water below.

The ignorance of some of the authorities is so massive they see grass in gardens as a junglee growth to be eradicated, they do not even know how to grow grass properly, keep on barricading it from the public, you can’t grow more callous than that..

In Joggers Park in Bandra they are currently raising a barbed wire, high fence as if this is some high security area, totally ugly. The excuse is that at night some people, especially couples cross over from the rocks to the park. Surely, there are better ways of dealing with this.

And so shoddy is the electric work in the park. They cannot even manage to create a proper point for the little use of electricity for the welding. For that all the electric lights on top of high poles in the periphery get switched on involving a massive loss of electricity for hours together.

Mr Gautam Chatterjee is one of our better bureaucrats. A founder chairman of the Maharashtra RERA, real estate regulatory agency, he said recently that our pattern of urbanisation is highly exclusionary and there is increased need for rental housing.

So true. He was speaking at a discussion on sustainable housing at a conference on architecture and people organised by the Rizvi college of architecture in Bandra.

Plus there are other problems. After the session while I was walking towards Carter road in Bandra, I saw a big plot of land where once there was an orphanage for Parsi girls. So there was social concern then and land had not become a commodity . A board still mercifully exists, saying there was the Bai Avabai Petit orphanage.Now this plot seems to be under the control of developers. Surely regulations can be framed to make such redevelopment more inclusive, a part of it should be available for the particular community if not the public. Since this was a community land, it is best to put to community or public use.

Another example of land not being treated as a commodity in the old days is the Parsi old age home at Band Stand now under redevelopment. This is in fact a leased land so the pubic should have more access to it. Both these plots are in areas with very high property prices. Similar is the case with so much industrial land which became vacant and the government has not used its prerogative to use it for public purpose.

The rich liberally donated land for public purpose in the old days Now, it is the other way around. The multi storey residential building of India’s richest man is built on land that was reserved for an orphanage.

Opposite the Shiv Sena Bhavan was the huge land of NTC Kohinoor mill land, then turned by Mr Manohar Joshi and others into a totally commercial venture. Sadly Mr Joshi passed away recently.

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

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