Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mumbai Metro Rail - a rocky road begins

This full page ad was carried in today's dailies. As we speak, the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has laid down the foundation stone of the Mumbai Metro, in particular the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar leg.

The one person who didn't make it to that list of illuminaries was Dr. T. Chandra Shekhar, Metropolitan Commissioner, MMRDA, and the man who, arguably, pushed the Mumbai Metro-Reliance Energy Deal through. Dr. Chandra Shekhar has also been credited with the transformation of Thane. In short, a man with an established track record. A man widely seen as capable of getting things done.

The one person seen smiling in that ad is Mumbai Regional Congress Comittee Chief, Mr. Gurudas Kamath. This probably isn't surprising given that a few days back Mr. Kamath was demanding the ouster of Dr. Chandra Shekhar following allegations of corruption and over the poor quality of tenements given to people affected by the ongoing cleaning of the Mithi River.

Despite this, Chief Minister Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh (also the Chairman of the MMRDA) confirmed the appointment of Dr. Chandra Shekhar as the Metropolitan Commissioner. In this interview, the CM also seems to have given Dr. Chandra Shekhar a clean chit.

Mr. Kamath is yet to give proof of his allegations. For enlightening himself, perhaps he should have read this brilliant post by Sonia Faleiro (which also points out to the fact that the MMRDA building and the NSE building sit next to the Mithi river - even as the MMRDA evicts slum-dwellers and even as the PAP who are legally entitled to R&R get neither) and Dilip D'Souza's Ambujwadi series.

Work on the Metro, the Mithi River, the MUTP and MUIP is bound to affect people staying in these areas. That the Government is making a mess of the R&R work came into the spotlight when the World Bank pulled the plug on funding of the road component of the MUTP. With full-page ads like today, it does seem like the issue of R&R of PAP is getting drowned in the noise created by the Congress over the development (hic! transformation!) of Mumbai.

Development being driven by projects that gathered dust for more than 20-30 years. Like the Mumbai Metro, the Bandra Worli Sea Link and the Trans Harbour Link.

Coming back to the Mumbai Metro, it's clear that the Congress wants to raise the decibel level on this huge project, after its debacle on the 26/7 floods. Needless to say, it's also got an eye on the elections at the BMC due next year.

The BMC, currently run by the Shiv Sena-BJP, is still coming to terms with its own share of blame for the 26/7. The heavy downpours earlier this month didn't show them in a very good light, as its own disaster centre plunged in darkness even as Mr. Johnny Joseph was assuring the press elsewhere that the situation was under control.

Aside. The Shiv Sena turned 40 recently and Supremo Bal Thackeray celebrated in true style, calling for the help of Naxalites to tackle terrorism. End of Aside.

Major development projects have their own share of politics. It's as true for the country as it is for Mumbai. In commencing these age-old projects, the MMRDA is finally kick-starting the process of developing Mumbai's infrastructure. However, the path won't be easy given the multiple problems involved and the need for integrated solutions.

Walking the thin line between development and politics, Dr. Chandra Shekhar and the MMRDA are bound to face further controversy. So, perhaps it's a good thing that he was not featured in that ad. He'd almost seem like the perfect fall guy.