Plenty of questions were raised regards the ability of Mumbai to withstand a crisis in the aftermath of the cloudburst (my dad informs me that it was a ‘vortex’ but upon a cursory search, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence). Vision Mumbai, the 2003 Bombay First-McKinsey report [PDF link] seems relevant right now. Of course, the ‘other’ commission report is far more politically relevant and I will get back to that later [if you are impatient, read Nitin's excellent opinion]. Dilip has already fisked the report, raising relevant points.
I agree with Dilip in concluding that the report offers recommendations for the upper-middle class car owners while just glancing over the aam junta that inhabits most of Mumbai. Everyone agrees that Mumbai is literally bursting at the seams but yet it manages to survive and even flourish. Political and cultural policing have inflicted greater damage than other economic factors. The report rushes to compare Mumbai to other ‘world-class’ cities and attempts to replicate successful models of revitalization. While not totally ignoring best-case scenarios and examples to emulate, we should first place Mumbai’s redevelopment into context.
Simply raising FSI to 10 without laying supporting infrastructure is
asking for more trouble. I hate constant comparisons with the US but you see intense activity on a construction site before even any structure rises above the ground. They simply spend enough time and resources laying down the infrastructure – drainage, water supply, power lines, telecommunications, gas supply, etc. The antiquated Urban Land Ceiling Act, Rent
Control Act, and the more recently introduced Coastal Zonal Regulation
have systematically undermined Mumbai’s growth in the right direction.
Loopholes are fully exploited by shrewd businessman and corruption
takes care of the rest but no report has focused on the people.
Unfettered development by scrupulous builders without considering the
strain on the infrastructure has burdened the city beyond repair.
Admittedly, the drainage and sewage systems are restricted by the
geography but that doesn’t mean we do not upgrade them; expert help is
always available. Otherwise, 944mm rain or not, Mumbai always shuts
down for at least a day each monsoon leading to untold economic damage.
We have to accept that almost 50% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums
and wishing them away doesn’t work but granting them free housing
on the city’s periphery (Rajiv Gandhi Yojana) doesn’t work either. I am not in favor of granting free favors to the slum dwellers. Low cost housing integrated within the city’s fabric can be a partial solution. Accepting the existence of lower class of working people that add to the city’s coffers is the first step. The mill and port
authority lands should be used for redevelopment and emphasis should be
laid on developing effective and rapid modes of public transportation (so people can live away from the city center too – rich and poor alike). Improving
‘airport ambience’ is important but not as important as streamlining
the lifeline of Mumbai — the public rail and bus network. Car access
should be restricted or made prohibitively expensive a la New York. It
is a catch-22 situation; we can restrict car access without improving
public transit and there is no incentive to improve public transit
unless we restrict cars from entering the city. The report also talks
about ‘economic growth’ which effectively means producing wealth for
the city whereas they should be talking about ‘economic development’
that means improving quality of life. Another aspect is nice clean open
spaces. Mumbai turns its back on the eastern coastline; mostly
monopolized by the BPT. New York is slowly waking up to the existence
of its ‘other’ coastline (Greenpoint Williamsburg Redevelopment). Green
spaces, even if they are simple tracts of land that open up to the sky
above are sorely needed. Give people an open space and they will find a
use for it. Open spaces are like breathing spots of a city. Central Park is a great example that I like to cite.
This is too little a space to launch into a long drawn out laundry list
for bettering Mumbai’s woes. Feel free to add your two cents. In
conclusion, unless we are really happy living in Mumbai, we aren’t going to be really happy. Amchi Mumbai and Mumbai’s indomitable spirit bounces back make good headlines but navigating through life’s hassles everyday is enough to demand a better living experience.
Update: Ravikiran doesn’t agree with Mumbai-Shanghai comparisons and rightly says, "the object of economic development is not just to build nice looking infrastructure we can show to foreigners. It is to build nice-looking infrastructure that citizens actually use."