Tuesday, October 31, 2006

History lesson again

A few days back, I had posted on the timeline of the riots which preceded the March 1993 Bombay Bomb Blasts.

Today, in a sombre post, Sonia Faleiro recalls that history while talking about the recent July-06 blasts.

In the aftermath of the bomb blasts, Mumbai’s Muslims feared a violent reprisal from the majority community, mirroring the riots of December 1992-January 1993. The riots followed the destruction of the Babri mosque in the city of Ayodhya by a mob led by Hindu fundamentalist leaders perpetrating the belief that the mosque was built on the birthplace of Lord Ram. The riots killed over 1,000 people, demarcating forever Mumbai’s people and places. Shortly after, on March 12, 1993, fifteen serial explosions, masterminded by members of the underworld and Islamic terror groups, struck Mumbai’s most famous landmarks including the Bombay Stock Exchange, killing 257 people. The blasts were believed to be payback for the riots.

It is not surprising then, that after the attacks this July, Mumbai’s Muslim community was immediately on its guard.

Read her full post here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Mumbai Metro Rail - potential hiccup

Just when you thought that with the Prime Minister himself flagging off the Mumbai Metro Rail Project, it would finally take off. Not quite.

After first haggling over the amount of viability gap funding (VGF) with the contractors, Reliance Energy, the State Government is facing what could be another hurdle. Newspaper reports suggest that the Government could reject the Rs650cr VGF because – get this – bidding for the Mumbai Metro happened before the Govt made its Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee (PPPAC).

As per this DNA article
A senior Union government official said central assistance is reserved for future projects. "The government’s schemes are implemented only with prospective effect" he said. In the circumstances, funding cannot be made available for Mumbai’s metro project because its bidding process preceded the finalisation of the VGF guidelines. [Link]

As per this FE article
"....North Block now feels that the project cannot be considered under the PPP-AC, as the bidding was finalised before the committee was set up. So it does not fulfill the technical parameters. Now the finance ministry is of the opinion that the project should seek sanction from the ministry of urban development under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNUURM). For this, it has also written a letter to JNUURM. Sources said the finance ministry was not very happy with the project cost and the terms of the concession agreement, and if it agreed to consider it under the PPP-AC, it might ask for a revision of both." [link]

After getting, Brimstowad approved for full centre funding, the Maharashtra State Government has already lined up many other projects under JNNURM. Considering the strict riders that come with the JNNURM, I doubt the State Govt. would want to club the Metro under the JNNURM as well. More so, given that the Metro has already been flagged off, versus all the other projects (even the Brimstowad) which are only in the report and approval stage.

Worst case scenario ? MMRDA - i.e. the Maharashtra State Government - foots the Rs650cr bill, which is not particularly good for the already tottering state finances.

However, there seems to be hope. Or at least, so the MMRDA would want us to believe.

As per this follow-up DNA article
"[MMRDA] Officials told DNA that since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself had inaugurated the project, there was no room for the Centre to back out. "The secretary-level clearance has already come through, and on November 1 there is a meeting with Finance Minister P Chidambaram," said T Chandrashekhar, MMRDA metropolitan commissioner." [Link]

Final decision due in a couple of days, Nov 1. Given that the Congress is playing the development card ahead of the BMC elections, I'd think that this issue will be quickly - and favorably - resolved.

Earlier posts on Mumbai Metro Rail :
Sept-06: Route changed
June-06: Flag-off
May-06: Contract awarded
May-06: Viability gap issue resolved
May-06: Issues over viability gap
Apr-06: Project details

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who's afraid of JNNURM?

Back at the Hafta after ages.

Couple of things here. This portal of the Jawarharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) came as a big surprise to me. The emphasis on urban reforms is really something. Besides the mandatory requirement for repealing acts like the ULCA, I was impressed by the emphasis given to citizen participation. Or should I really be surprised ? After all Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha was the National Technical Advisor to the JNNURM.

This piece appeared in the Hafta dated 23rd Oct 2006. Read the full article below. Comments welcome.

Conditional Change
After laying the foundation stone for the Mumbai Metro in July, Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, returned to visit Mumbai last month to approve full Centre funding for the much-needed Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drainage (Brimstowad) project. Two large projects flagged off in three months, surely seems like a lot for a city that has waited decades for any infrastructure overhaul.

While the Brimstowad report has been gathering dust since 1993, it came in the spotlight only after the 26th July 2005 deluge which exposed the weaknesses of the city’s ages-old drainage system. With the PM clearing the funding, work will finally kick-off on this ambitious Rs1,800cr project which will involve widening and deepening of four major underground drains in the island city and seven in western suburbs and eight in the eastern suburbs.

But the work will also involve relief and rehabilitation (R&R) of 20,000 families, which itself will cost Rs600crores. This will be the State Government’s biggest challenge since it dare not repeat the debacle of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) R&R which resulted in the World Bank temporarily suspending funding for the MUTP project.

All the kings’ horses and men
While the State Government is basking in the glory of getting funding for the Brimstowad, their biggest challenge only lies ahead. They have yet to make any headway in procuring Centre approval for other vital projects for the city.

At last count, other than Brimstowad, there were 10 other projects that came for review between the Centre and the Maharashtra State Government at the time of the PM’s visit. Post review – and to quote from the press release – “The Prime Minister directed that Mumbai's development needs should receive a very high priority, and its problems redressed without any delay. He directed that expeditious approval be given to the Middle Vaitarna Water Supply Project for Mumbai IV, and Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Projects under JNNURM by October/November 2006.”

However, and as things go for this city, a month down the line, nothing has moved forward. What’s worse is that the State Government and all its bureaucrats can’t even do a good job of submitting the required information to the Centre for getting critical funding for these projects under the Centre’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Mission (JNNURM).

It is indeed ironical that almost all the projects mentioned by the Prime Minister are ages old. They’ve been studied by various bodies like the BMC, MMRDA, etc as well as consultants over the years and yet, even today, the combined lot of the politicians and bureaucrats – also in charge of India’s financial capital – cannot prepare reports on these projects with the required details.

Time for change
So, why is the Government dragging its feet over much required infrastructure funding for Mumbai? One answer could be reluctance on the part of the Government to comply with the changes that the JNNURM requires State Governments to make for getting urban infrastructure funding. What are these ? Take a look below (extract from Government’s Toolkit on the JNNURM)
  1. (a) “Implementation of decentralisation measures as envisaged in 74th Constitutional Amendment Act. The State should ensure meaningful association and engagement of ULBs (urban local bodies) in planning the function of parastatal agencies as well as the delivery of services to the citizens.
  2. (b) *Repeal of Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act (ULCRA).
  3. (c) *Reform of Rent Control Laws balancing the interests of landlords and tenants.
  4. (d) Rationalisation of Stamp Duty to bring it down to no more than 5 per cent within next seven years.
  5. (e) Enactment of the Public Disclosure Law to ensure preparation of medium-term fiscal plan of ULBs and parastatal agencies and release of quarterly performance information to all stakeholders.
  6. (f) Enactment of the Community Participation Law to institutionalise citizen’s participation and introduce the concept of the Area Sabha in urban areas.
  7. (g) Assigning or associating elected ULBs with “city planning function”. Over a period of seven years, transferring all special agencies that deliver civic services in urban areas to ULBs and creating accountability platforms for all urban civic service providers in transition.
* Footnote: In respect of people oriented schemes relating to water supply and sanitation, the under-mentioned State level mandatory reforms may be taken as optional reforms: b) Repeal of Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act c) Reform of Rent Control Act.”

Phew. Surely, that’s a lot of change to digest for the ruling politicians. But like it or not, those changes are for real. Those changes will have to be made if the city has to be overhauled – and was there any doubt on that? Those changes will also involve managing the different people (vested interests?) affected by these large infrastructure projects in Mumbai. And therein lies the true test for the politicians.

Well begun is..
Meanwhile, its festive season and time for all the politicos to blow up their mugs and minimise God on party posters to wish all of us a Happy Diwali, Id or whatever. And yes, the BMC elections are also due soon. So, while the Congress is flaunting its achievements on its party posters across the city, it would do well to keep in mind that getting projects approved and funded is only a step, a step due for decades, in the right direction. Execution, however, will be another – and longer – story altogether.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lest we forget the history

For those refered to in here, these are a few events that took place before 12th March 1993.

July-92 to Dec-92 – Rallies, processions, etc held by the Sena, BJP, etc. across Bombay on the Ayodhya issue, mostly in communally sensitive areas.

6th December 1992 – The Babri Masjid is demolished.

26th December 1992 – Maha-aartis launched and continue till Feb-1993.

3rd January 1993 – Alleged MHADA officials survey Pratiksha Nagar, Antop Hill for Muslim residences.

5th January 1993 – Four Mathadi workers stabbed to death.

8th January 1993 – "During the wee hours of 8th January 1993, at about 0030 hours, some of the Hindu residences in a chawl popularly known as Radhabai Chawl in Jogeshwari jurisdiction were locked from outside and set on fire by miscreants. One male and five female members of a Hindu family (Bane) and their neighbours were charred to death and three other Hindus sustained serious burn injuries. One of the victims was a handicapped girl. This incident was sensationalized by the media by giving exaggerated and provoking reports." [Chapter II Para 1.11 (i)]

Final tally of deaths during riots between Dec-92 and Jan-93 - 900. [Chapter II Para 1.24]

12th March 1993 - 10 bomb blasts across Bombay. 257 killed or missing and 713 injured.

(Source: Chapter II of the Srikrishna Commission Report. Link here)

"Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana.

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