Monday, December 31, 2007

Mumbai 2007 – the year that we forget tomorrow

Or as I like to call it 2007 – The Mumbai That Wasn’t.

No round-up or curtain-raiser this time, instead, here are 10 things that Mumbai didn’t get in 2007.

10. Mumbai Metro – More than a year after being flagged off, no work has started on the Mumbai Metro. Meanwhile Delhi Metro completed 5 years in 2007.

9. The Bandra Worli Sealink – This project has seen it all, cost over-runs, delays and stoppage of work. Originally conceived in 1962, the project will – hopefully – get completed by end-2008.

8. The Mumbai Transharbour Sea Link – This one hasn’t even got a contractor as yet. Brothers Ambani are fighting over it and perhaps one of them will get it in 2008.

7. Traffic – Actually we got loads and loads of traffic. But no solution. As for TRANSFORM – “Transport Study for the Region of Mumbai”, it will soon be a year since their forlorn website was updated.

6. Better trains – While we did get a few new, shiny trains (but it will also take 3 years for 157 more of these to come), trains only got more crowded, forcing commuters to boycott train travel for a day.

5. Electricity – We had to beg and borrow from neighboring states because we’re consuming far, far more than we can get. 24x7 electricity might get short circuited come summer 2008. Batti bandh?

4. Roads – Neither the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road nor the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Roads got completed in 2007. Both are between 3-4 year overdue.

3. Wide Open Spaces Рare now an endangered species. Builders and towers are pass̩ because this year the BMC joined the gang, trying their best to push a shady policy to sell off our grounds.

2. Sane Politicians – The Shiv Sena ranting against ULCRA repeal and Narayan Rane baying for Vilasrao’s Deshmukh’s chair; both these acts eclipse every other inane antic resorted to by Mumbai’s politicians.

1. Affordable Housing – The good news is that property rates didn’t shoot up double once again in 2007. The bad news is no one expects them to come down in 2008. Towers will come up (Mill Lands, Dharavi ) and open spaces (grounds, salt pans) will vanish. But your dream house sure ain’t getting cheaper next year.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Some thoughts on car free day in Mumbai

Mumbai’s Mayor, Dr. Shubha Raul, made an appeal yesterday for a Car-Free Day in Mumbai. I’ve framed a reply below.

Dear Madam,
Thank you for your appeal. It is heartening to see someone from Mumbai’s administrators actually make such an appeal. Even if we're lagging behind other countries on this initiative, I say better late than never. However, I find myself wondering whether I should respond to your appeal for the reasons outlined below.

1. How serious are your own efforts? – On Dec 15th, a group of energetic young people organized “Batti Bandh”. They made an appeal to Mumbaikars to shut down all electrical appliances for an hour. Your organization, the BMC, supported it. The response was dismal. After pledging your support and even shutting the lights of your bungalow, I’d like to ask why the BMC failed to do the same for their headquarters? Why were the hoardings in Mumbai still lit? If we could not achieve anything for one hour of voluntary efforts, how do you think your initiative will work for one full day?

2. How credible is the BMC? – It is very ironic when you say
Earlier, people used to take morning and evening strolls for fresh air, but even these are not pleasant nowadays, thanks to increasing emissions by vehicles. This is alarming.
Have you considered that perhaps the lack of open spaces could also be one reason impacting morning and evening strolls? A few weeks back, the BMC wanted to give away all our open spaces to private clubs because the BMC Chief, Shri Phatak, claimed that the BMC could not protect these open spaces from slums. Earlier, this year you disallowed debate on the Crawford Market redevelopment proposal. Given these questionable decisions how credible is the BMC to ask for a car-free day?

3. How clean is your home? – You say,
The number of people hospitalised with asthma, bronchitis, cancer, lung problems and eye diseases is on the rise. Moreover, noise pollution is causing hearing impairment, blood pressure and stress.
But did you know that between April and September this year, 122 BMC conservancy workers died due to hazardous working conditions [Source]. If you are so concerned about Mumbaikars being hospitalized due to diseases, perhaps you could also show some concern for your own workers, who are also Mumbaikars? Perhaps you could start by at least giving a cause of death for these employees? That’s the least they, and their families, deserve. If you cannot take care of your own employees – who are dying at the rate of 2 every 3 days – how will you take care of our city?

4. What about the other 364 days for public transport? You say
I want to make a beginning towards a pollution-free life for us all. I promise you that when the car-free day happens, I too will travel on local trains or BEST buses. I will expect all of you to follow.

Do not worry about insufficient public transport infrastructure. I assure BEST will add more commuter-friendly buses. If we do not take this initiative, what future will our children have in this era of global warming?
“Insufficient public transport” is not anything new to Mumbaikars. We deal with it everyday because we know the authorities aren’t interested in doing anything about our problems. A few days back, we even refused to travel in trains for a day because of the inhuman traveling conditions. The same trains that you traveled in because you were fed up with traffic on our roads. As for BEST buses, I’m sure you are aware that the BEST is, in fact, closing down some routes because of mounting losses. The writing on the wall has always been clear – Mumbai’s public transport can’t cope with its strains. Are your assurances valid only for one day for your appeal? How serious are you about the other 364 days?

5. What of the other 88%? You say
Once the idea of travelling by public transport catches on, I will encourage you all to do it twice or thrice a month to set an example before the world that we Indians do not lag behind in efforts to save the planet. You may say a once-a-month exercise will not save the city. But my reply is - a thousand-mile journey starts with a single step.
“Idea of public transport catches on?” Did you know that 88% of Mumbaikars already use public transport? So, we caught on to the idea a long time back. We endure the train and the buses, every day. You talk of a single step in a thousand-mile journey. But lakhs of Mumbai’s commuters have been taking single steps on Virar-Churchgate, Kalyan-CST journeys for ages. And their journey has only gotten tougher. For them, for these 88% of Mumbaikars, the car-free day is anyways meaningless. You issue front-page appeals to the 12% of Mumbai’s population that own cars. But what of that small 88% balance?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Batti bandh tomorrow

One hour tomorrow.

From 7.30pm to 8.30pm.

All lights off.

Home, work, wherever.

Do it. Do it because you want to and do it because you believe. And with that one hour, go walk. Go to a park, a garden, a street. It's a Saturday. It's Mumbai. There's always things to do that don't involve starting at a computer screen or a TV screen.

More details here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Voter ID Card Mumbai campaign

The following ad appeared in yesterday's HT.

For those who want their names included/amended, you now have only two weeks to ensure you get this done. (also read this)

In case you've not received the notification at home for this exercise, here's what you should do:

1. If you know your assembly constituency, then go to your polling station given below (Source: Chief Electoral Officer Website). Click on the image for a larger view.

2. In case you don't know your assembly constituency, then
(a) 1. For those in Mumbai City (i.e. from Colaba to Mahim): please visit the Mumbai City Collector's website (click here)

2. For those in Mumbai Suburbs (i.e. from Bandra to Dahisar): please visit the Mumbai Suburban Collector's website (click here)

Call these numbers and ask for further details.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mumbai Metro Phase Two bids in

Meet the seven contenders who have submitted their technical bids for Phase Two of the Mumbai Metro. (Pre-qualification bids happened in June-07)

Consortium 1: L&T, GE, CAF

Consortium 2: Pioneer Infratech, Mitsubishi, Tata Power

Consortium 3: GVK, YTL, Bombardier

Consortium 4: Reliance, Siemens, Gammon

Consortium 5: Essar, Alstom, Lanco

Consortium 6: IL&FS, IL&FS-TN, Punj Lloyd

Consortium 7: Reliance Energy, Reliance Comm, SNC Lavalin

Brief details about Phase Two of the Mumbai Metro
Route: Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd
Cost: Rs6,192crores
Length: 31.87km
No. of stations: 27
Expected passenger load: 1.275m by 2011

Now is also a good time to recall that Phase 1 (Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar) is currently stuck over a 20acre plot in Versova which the MMRDA needs for a car-shed, but which, reportedly, the owner of the plot is reluctant to sell. Update - This is now resolved because with the repeal of the ULCRA, the litigation around the plot should come to an end, paving the way for the MMRDA to strike a deal with the owner. (Source)

Here's wishing the contenders all the best, especially the Ambani Bros. Let's hope they don't do an MTHL here.

Us Mumbaikars, we'll just wait for the traffic jam when the Prime Minister inaugurates Phase Two. Then, we'll just wait. And wait. If we could wait forty years for the Mumbai Metro (remember that the Metro was first mooted as far back as 1967-68), surely we can wait for forty more years.

Friday, November 30, 2007

ULCRA repealed, finally

The Maharashtra Government finally repealed the Urban Land Ceiling Regulations Act (ULCRA) yesterday. Some of my quick thoughts on the impact of this move.

- Boost for transparency in a sector which badly requires it
- A probable end to land grabs by politicians and bureaucrats
- Easier access to Central Government's funds for Mumbai's infrastructure projects
- Longer-term real-estate supply now available, should aid stability for prices
- Red tape cut and therefore quicker clearances for real-estate projects

- Potential for land-hoarding by owners, unless the Government gets serious about the proposed tax on vacant land on that part of land not being used for development by the owners
- No immediate impact on property prices, given that the land freed from ULCRA will take at least a couple of years to develop
- Not a definitive answer to the housing problem for Mumbai; although the Government has said that acquired land will be given to MHADA and MMRDA for low-cost housing, chances are owners will go to court on this. Besides Government sponsored housing schemes are prone to misuse as well as lack of transparency.

Update: Various newspapers are giving different numbers for the exact quantum of land released with the ULCRA repeal. Today's DNA, seems to make sense, so here's a summary.

Total Land declared surplus by the Govt since 1976=17,000 acres
Of which, land declared exempt=12,000 acres
Approx. balance surplus land to be used for low-cost housing=5,945 acres
Of which, land declared exempt (again)=1,827 acres
Which leaves a balance of=4,118 acres
Of which, Govt. orders acquisition of=3,500 acres
But acquires only=2,282 acres (challenged by owners and stayed by courts)
Actual land to be made available now=1,218 acres

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is ULCRA repeal in Mumbai relevant?

As the Winter Session of the State’s Legislature gets underway in Nagpur, newsflow on the repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act (ULCRA) has picked up again. Today’s DNA reports that the ULCRA might be repealed today itself. Remember, the Act needs to be repealed to get funds under the Centre’s JNNURM.

While similar newsflow was active even least year during the Winter Session, nothing happened for a year. The ULCRA repeal escaped the Budget Session (March 2007) and the Monsoon Session (July 2007). Now, with the winter session underway, we’re all talking about it again.

So, will it or won’t it?

Current political thinking:

Ruling Congress-NCP Party: Chief Minister Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, once a proponent of the ULCRA repeal, is now cautious, choosing instead to say vague things like:
"It is true that the discussion on the issue has remained inconclusive during last two session, but the business advisory committee has decided to take it up again on November 21," said Deshmukh while addressing the media at his official residence Ramgiri on Sunday.

Deshmukh further added that bills were always placed before both Houses of the legislature with the intention of passing them, but it would be breach of privilege if he announced that the same would certainly be passed.
BJP: In favour of repealing, simply because it was their Government at the centre which formed the JNNURM in the first place, calling for reforms such as repeal of archaic and pointless laws like the ULCRA.

Shiv Sena+Left+smaller parties: Against repeal, on the grounds that the Government must, instead, implement the Act, acquire surplus land and use it for affordable housing in Mumbai. Newspaper reports indicate the Sena, led by Opposition Leader Ramdas Kadam, wants loan waivers to the Vidarbha farmers as a quid pro quo for them to agree to the ULCRA repeal.

Here are the numbers at stake:
Per this HT article, the total surplus land across Western and Central Suburbs in Mumbai is estimated at 3,600acres. To put things in perspective, the size of the Mumbai Mill Lands was estimated at about 600 acres (or 400acres per the SC verdict, 7-Mar-06, page 71).

Now, of the surplus 3,600 acres, the Government has already taken over possession of about 2,300acres. The balance 1,300 acres still vests with the owners. And who are the owners? Take a look below (Source: Page 2, HT, dt. 28th Nov 2007)

However, the owners are disputing the Government’s claim that this land is surplus. Therefore, all of the 3,600acres is under litigation. What then does the ULCRA repeal mean for this surplus land? No clear answer, but here’s what might happen (from the HT Article)

(a) The balance 1,300 acres not in Government’s possession goes back to the owners

(b) The 2,300 acres of land acquired by the Government goes into courts and dispute between the owners and the Government . Legal cases, as we know, will then go on forever

(c) The Government gives back the land to the owners (as was the case in a similar situation in Gujarat in 1999)

Mumbai's demand-supply myth
Conventional thinking would suggest that increased supply of land would bring prices down? Before you say yes, consider this. There is no demand-supply concept in Mumbai ‘s real-estate market. As long as builders control the supply of land in Mumbai, they will dictate prices. Thanks to the overall economy's blistering growth, demand for Mumbai’s property remains high. And with supply being completely constrained, property prices will, in all likelihood, only increase.

Don’t believe me? Consider these two cases, one each in commercial and residential property, both spanning the last 2-3 years.

(a) In July-2005, IndiaBulls purchased 8acres of Elphinstone Mills Land for Rs441crores, a deal termed ridiculously expensive at that time. But, aided by a generous FSI allotment on that land, IndiaBulls has converted that 8acres into prime commercial property. In the process, they’ve probably more than made up their purchase price and, if their stock price in these last two years is any indicator, will also land up making a killing on the transaction.

(b) Suburban Mumbai has seen it's traditional ground+2 storied structures being converted to 10floor+ structures, thanks to the TDR policy (which allows builders to increase FSI on older buildings, if they surrender land for public use to the Government). Despite the huge supply that has come into the market thanks to this transformation, property prices have only increased.

So if conventional thinking goes that repealing the Act will unleash loads of land into the market thereby bringing property prices down, nothing could be further from the truth. My own guess is that once builders eventually get their hands on this prime Mumbai property, they will convert them into villas and such-like for the super-rich. What’s left will be used for commercial development.

Best case, some itsy-bitsy bits of land might be handed over to the Government as a compromise to end the litigation. That way, the Government might even come out looking good, claiming that it will hand over these lands for “affordable housing” to the public. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Update: ULCRA was in fact finally repealed, more here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blog interrupted again

Once again this blog is hit by events mostly beyond the blogger's control. For more go to the other blog. I will be back soon. Till then, do visit HT's excellent Mumbai Project. Just for the whole lot of information and data, it's a must-visit. While it's good that they're running it on their website, I don't know why they're not carrying their daily pieces.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Watch out for summer 2008

..because it promises to be far warmer than 2007, not just because or rising temperatures, but because of falling electricity supply.

Mumbai's boast of 24x7 power was severely put to the test earlier this year. We managed by borrowing from other states and biding those sweltering summer months (and it gets progressively hotter doesn't it?). Come next summer and get ready for begging and borrowing again. Have a look at the chart below. (Source: Link. Download as excel file: Link).

Yet again, the city will find itself in a bind because there are no new sources of power considering that all three power suppliers (Reliance, BEST and Tata Power) will be increasing output in the next one year. Leave alone development, here we're talking basic amenities in our city. Wonder if the ministers should start praying from now on itself.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Dharavi Dilemma

That Dharavi’s make-over will change Mumbai’s landscape is fairly obvious. Nearly as obvious as the fact that the execution of the scheme will be a huge challenge. Relocating people and relocating businesses is going to be much more difficult than getting a bulldozer and razing a few huts and shanties.

And we’ve made a great start. We have no idea how many people stay at Dharavi. That’s right, the redevelopment plan of Asia’s largest slum, till some time back, was being done without any idea of how many people staying there, save for a vague number of 57,000 families (do a google search here to see how widely quoted this arbit number is). No surveys done, no approval from the slum residents required. The only voice we hear is that of builders and politicians, both of whom are already talking bids, designs, houses, commercial complexes, artists renditions, etc.

Thankfully, with the appointment of Dr. T. Chandrashekhar (Ex MMRDA chief) as Officer on Special Duty, there’s at least some move towards transparency. Take, for example, his first move – to do an extensive biometric survey to establish how many people actually live there. The survey itself has run into a controversy, but let’s leave that there.

A few days back, in an HT op-ed piece, noted urban planner Shirish B. Patel wrote a brilliant piece (link here, but since its an e-paper link, it will probably vanish in some time) which raised pertinent questions on the project, citing earlier slum rehab schemes in Mumbai and Delhi which didn’t work out right.

For example: 55 years back, pavement dwellers from Matunga and Sion were relocated to Janata Colony, Chembur. Over time (by the 1970s) the colony grew large, but it also became surrounded on three sides by the Atomic Energy Commission, which wanted them out. In the monsoons of 1976, the colony was bulldozed and the people relocated to Cheetah Camp where the monsoons drove water to just under their beds. They live there even today, and Cheetah Camp, like Janata Colony is thriving with activity.

Mr. Patel recalls the Shiv Sena which finally gave slum-dwellers their due. Which reminds me of the fruity logic thrown by some people. Logic which goes “Slums are illegal, therefore all slums should be demolished”, or the really kooky one which goes “Slum dwellers don’t contribute to Mumbai’s economy” (Read the article for why those arguments are incorrect). But I digress.

The Shiv Sena formulated the Slum Rehab Scheme, recognizing the legitimacy of slum-dwellers. The Scheme, simply put, provided for free, new housing for slum-dwellers at their existing location. The extra land would be built open by builders, fetching exponentially higher revenues and thereby financing the re-housing of the slum-dwellers. The brilliance of the scheme probably lay in its simplicity. The slum-dwellers are happy (they put their new homes on rent and build a slum elsewhere to profit similarly), the builders are happy (loads of money), the politicians are happy (solid vote-bank built). Now, just to clarify, its not that I’m saying that this was the incorrect way of doing things (I wish I knew the correct way), but this scheme has been known to be a failure and to have been plagued by corruption.

Coming back to Dharavi, Mr. Patel gives an amazing statistic. The Kalbadevi-Bhuleshwar area in Mumbai is the densest in the world – 70% worse than Shanghai. If you’ve already been there, you probably didn’t need that statistic. There’s barely anywhere to walk, leave alone drive. Dharavi, he says, is similar. Mr. Patel asks
So, if everyone living in Dharavi is resettled there, where is the space for newcomers? How will anyone move around, whether he is a newcomer or an old resident?.

Something has to give. Either the State Government resiles on its promise to re-house all of Dharavi’s occupants in-situ, compensates some of them (handsomely, one hopes) and asks them to move out. Or it accepts a programme of in-situ incremental improvement such that Dharavi remains in the possession of Dharavi’s residents only, with no new occupants (unless someone chooses to sell out)
Besides all this, there is also the issue of the slum-dwellers themselves. Now that their say doesn’t count (remember that the rule of 70% consent for the project, has been done away for Dharavi), what’s stopping them from going to courts? Or for any political vested interest to take advantage?

The issue is not one of whether the re-development should be done or not. The issue is not that opposition to the project implies opposition to development. The issue is who do you trust? What gives you any assurance that post redevelopment, the very problems we're seeking to resolve don't come back to haunt us? It's about execution. About building confidence, perhaps even a consensus, that this scheme, and/or any modification, has a sure shot of working, rather than be soaked in doubt.

But, the only people who are optimistic that the Dharavi Re-development Plan will transform Mumbai are the builders and the politicians. I’m thinking Mill Land redux.

So, redevelopment, land-grab, make-over, pick your term and lets see where this goes.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

On technical grounds

That's what has delayed the the Shewri-Nhava Sheva Transharbour Link (or the MTHL - Mumbai Transharbour Link).

First, some facts that I know.
  • The MTHL, like many other Mumbai projects, was thought of a long time back (1970 to be precise). As usual, nothing (has) happened.
  • A few years back the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) began thinking about building this bridge and bids were invited. When I first posted, there were three groups in the race as follows.
  • (a) Mukesh Ambani Group (IL&FS+Seaking+John Laing+Laing O'Rourke)
  • (b) L&T-Gammon-Sistema
  • (c) IIMC (IFFCO+ITD+MAEDA+Skanska)
  • At some point of time, the Anil D. Ambani Group (ADAG which is Reliance Energy+Hyundai Construction), joined the race to build the bridge.
  • MSRDC disqualified ADAG from bidding on technical grounds, i.e.because its partner Hyundai had incurred cash losses in the past. Therefore, the combined net cash profit of the Group fell below MSRDC norms, even though other norms were met. (More in this article).
  • And therein began the controversy: how can you disqualify the group when it meets all the conditions except one, which can be a technicality? Not surprisingly ADAG went to court.
  • Two facts to remember (a) elder brother Mukesh Ambani, also in the bid to build the bridge, is at loggerheads with Anil Ambani and (b) MTHL is critical to Mukesh Ambani's Navi Mumbai/Maha Mumbai Special Economic Zone, because the MTHL will link the SEZ to Mumbai.
So, chew on this for a minute. From 1970 to 2006, nothing really happened on the MTHL. 36 years nothing. What were our ministers doing? When they did decide to go ahead, the issue went into court.

Where are we now? On Sept 11th 2007, the Supreme Court scrapped an earlier High Court order and allowed ADAG to bid for the project. The extended date for filing financial bids now stands at 15th December 2007.

The latest update came courtesy a front page HT article last week. The MSRDC had disqualified a Chinese firm from the bidding process on technical grounds, i.e. because the Chinese firm has built a longer bridge at a cheaper cost. This is what MSRDC Chairman, Shri Anil Deshmukh, has to say.
The pre-bid qualifications laid down that the bidder should have built a sea link of at least Rs1,000 crore. Their sea link had cost Rs850 crore. Labour and construction material in China is cheaper.
As with so many things that this city has endured from various governments, this doesn't make sense. As in the past, there is no transparency in the whole process. As in the past, there's a stench of foul play. As in the past, courts have had to intervene. As in the past, an important project gets delayed. Keep waiting Mumbai

Monday, October 22, 2007

Will the real modern Indian city please stand up

Today's Mint carries an interesting interview (link) with Delhi's Chief Minister, Mrs. Sheila Dixit. The interview has been taken from the McKinsey Quarterly (link). Ms. Dixit is now on her second term as the CM of Delhi. Meaning ten years at the helm.
The Quarterly: How has Delhi changed during your two terms in office?

Sheila Dikshit: If you look at the physical achievements, the infrastructure is much better, the power is much better, water is much better, and transport is better because of the Metro, although not terribly so. I would say it needs another two to three years to put it right. When I look at human development, I think Delhi has changed from a cynical city to a city of hope. And it attracts not just people who seek jobs but also culture now. Almost the entire television industry, for instance, is located in Delhi, whereas Bombay6 used to be the top city.

That infrastructure—the dozens and dozens and dozens of flyovers that have come up, the underpasses that have come up—has attracted a lot of labor from outside. Meanwhile, those who were living here were not terribly interested in doing manual labor. So the labor came in, and those who are local have become better educated and are looking for jobs in the service sector. A bit more economic growth has meant more migration, and more migration has meant that we almost keep standing where we are.
I've never lived in Delhi and have visited it only a few times in the last few years. Going from what I hear from people, its a transformed city. The Metro itself has led to a paradigm shift in commuting. Sure, there's a lot still to be done (even the CM accepts it in the interview) but that can't take away from the achievements noted above. Even at the Municipal level, the sealing drive under taken by the MCD was a bold step irrespective of the implementation or the results.

Coming back to Mumbai, these were Maharashtra's Chief Ministers since 1998 (courtesy Wikipedia)

1995-1999 - Manohar Joshi
1999 - Narayan Rane
1999 - 2003 - Vilasrao Deshmukh
2003 - 2004 - Sushil Kumar Shinde
2004 till date - Vilasrao Deshmukh

What have these people done for Mumbai? For a minute, just think what physical infrastructure has been created in Mumbai, since 2004 (the period that has seen India sustain high economic growth, a period that has, and continues to be, critical for Mumbai).

What are the achievements of our Chief Minister, Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh. I can't think of any. If you count the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (tag), then most of it is running behind schedule. Ditto, Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project. Whatever progress (extension and building of new railway lines, ramping up the Express Highways and the link roads) has come months after it was due. The Metro was flagged off a year ago and work will start only in Jan-2008. All other large road projects are stuck somewhere between the courts and the organisations who will commission the project. Housing? Full marks if you're a builder because these last few years would have been very good for you. If you were a prospective buyer, I hope you bought your house soon enough. Electricity? Load-shedding resulted in suburbs like Mulund facing hours of power cuts.

As a resident of Mumbai, I can say that life in the last four years has only gotten tougher. There has been some respite at the ward level (construction of drains, widening of roads, etc) thanks to a handful of BMC corporators, but as a city - India's largest - we have moved nowhere.

Is money a problem in Mumbai? Well, the Mayor certainly thinks so as she cribs about Mumbai not getting enough, while conveniently forgetting the BMC's own budget. Over at the Metro, the contractor - Reliance Energy - has had problems over viability funding with the MMRDA (and hence the State Government) and even today this Rs650crore remains a problem bouncing between the Centre and the State. Till recently, the Bandra Worli Sealink (tag) was stuck over cost over-run problems between the contractor and MSRDC. The issue is not one of "do we have the money?", but one of "how are we spending that money?"

And how's it in Delhi? Read below.
The Quarterly: Is funding a critical constraint?

Sheila Dikshit: No, funding is not a constraint. We have very good tax collection and have urged the people not to avoid taxes. We gave concessions where we thought we should, but we were also one of the first states to impose the VAT. Since things are happening here, the central government has been very kind to give us funds. So we are never short of funds.
And finally, lessons to be learnt.
The Quarterly: How can other Indian cities follow Delhi’s example?

Sheila Dikshit: They should be made into city-states,11 and we should start with five cities: Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, and so on. I am sure politically no one would agree with this, but I think administratively it would be good for the country’s development. Create city-states and give them the power to undertake development. They should not be under the state governments but rather under their own chief minister or chief administrator or whatever you want to call the position. They would collect their own revenues, maybe sharing a percentage with the other states. You have to develop your cities, especially if you’re envisaging that in the next 20 years 55 to 60 percent of India’s population will be urban. You just can’t do it with the same old administration where you’re dependent on various constituents for every penny.
Does any politician or any bureaucrat responsible for Mumbai, honestly even think of mooting that Mumbai be declared a state with its own administration and funding? I doubt it. Who would dare cut the hand that feeds?

Friday, October 12, 2007

ULCRA - to repeal or not to repeal

In many of my earlier posts I've made reference to the fact that a delay by the Maharashtra State Government to repeal the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA) will result in us losing out funds from the Central Government made available under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

But is the choice that simple? Repeal ULCRA = More money for Mumbai? That's the line being taken by many. But its never that simple. In Mumbai, nothing is.

The ULCRA is 30-year old piece of legislation followed more in its abuse. Formed with the purpose of curbing land-hoarding in the hands of a few, the Act empowered the State Government to acquire "excess" land and then release this land for public use. Sounds good, doesn't it? If Person X has loads and loads of land, then what's wrong if he surrenders a bit of it to the Government who then gives it back to the aam janta in the form of low-cost housing.

If only it was that simple. Ironically, even with all the discretionary power that the ULCRA gave to them, State Governments just couldn't work it right. They just couldn't - didn't - acquire surplus land. Besides, land owners, and Governments, conveniently circumvented the Act using the "exception" clauses that the Act contained.

Now, to put numbers to it, consider this nationwide data (source).
Land deemed as excess: 2,20,674 hectares
Land acquired by State Governments: 19,020 - or a mere 9%
Actual excess land exempted under the Act: 61,967 hectares.

(download data in MS Excel here)

Now, if that's not a case of failure, what is? Thankfully, but after a lot of debate, the Act - on a Central basis - was repealed in December 1998. Eventually a number of states that had implemented this Act followed suit. Delhi, for example, repealed the Act five years ago.

But Maharashtra - and hence Mumbai - has not repealed this Act. Our Chief Minister promised to repeal it last year, but the motion didn't make it through last years winter session and this year's monsoon session of the Legislature. Best chance now? This year's winter session.

For a minute, lets take a contrary view, i.e. is there a case for ULCRA to remain in action? After all, if implemented properly, the Act can achieve its intent, i.e. cool property prices and provide low-cost housing in a city where "affordable housing" is a dream.

Take for example, this article in today's ET. 84 year old, veteran Janata Dal (Secular) Leader P.B. Samant wants Maharashtra's Chief Minister, Shri Vilasrao Desh to convince him that repealing the Act will be beneficial.
The octogenarian leader referred to a successful housing project undertaken by Nagari Nivara Parishad for 6,000 families in Goregaon under ULCRA. “This demonstrates that the Act can still be implemented for the larger good of the people in Mumbai if the government has the will,” he added. The state government has proposed to repeal the Act in the winter session of the state legislature in December. “If the Act is repealed, around 30,000 acres of land would be released to real estate market players, who would certainly not use it for the benefit of an average Mumbaikar,” he said.
Indeed, who can argue with that? Shouldn't the State Government first implement the Act in its spirit before repealing it? But, doesn't past experience tell us that this Act can't be implemented? So, can we trust our politicians to actually execute this Act? Even if they do start implementing it, what if land-owners go to courts and delay the process? Even if the Government acquires land, then who will monitor the process of the surplus land reaching its ultimate end-use, i.e. low-cost housing? Is there any regulatory system in place to ensure transparency in this land-release?

As always, too many questions, too few answers. If, and when, ULCRA is finally repealed, the process will take time and it won't be transparent. Look at Mumbai's Mill Lands. The Supreme Court verdict (allowing for re-development of the mills) was in March-2006, and even today a year-and-a-half down the line, mill owners, the BMC and MHADA are all fighting over who gets how much land and when. So, even if the ULCRA is repealed, I doubt it will be an easy process and I doubt if it will result in vast tracts of land coming into the market on one fine day.

This is Mumbai. Nothing is simple, nothing is easy. And when it has to do with land, land worth thousands of crores, it will take time. Lots of time. Time that this city never had.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Maharashtra tops JNNURM funds takers

Question of the day - Which Indian state tops the list for availing Central Government funds for city projects, under the important Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission?

Answer - Maharashtra. For 47 projects, the state has drawn funds of Rs 6,396 crore. (Source: today's TOI. E-paper link here).

While the TOI article is based on a report that I can't find, data just prior to this report is available on the JNNURM website. This is a chart based on this data (accessable as Google Spreadsheet here).

What I can't figure out is how much of this money has come to Mumbai. Or wait, does the fact that the Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act (ULCRA) has not yet been repealed in Maharashtra have anything to do with that? I doubt it, since the state (not the city) tops the country in taking JNNURM funds.

Yet, funds have never been a real issue for the city. Whether through the State Government, or Central Government or even the BMC's huge annual budget. That's among the reason I'm not a big believer in the theory that "Mumbai gives so much to the Centre and we get nothing back". Well, I don't know about that now, considering that the state to which the city belongs to, gets the most from the Centre's scheme for urban renewal.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Road Project Updates

A brief update on three major road development projects, being handled in one way or another by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC). (Source: Today's TOI)

Bandra Worli Sea Link
Status: Stuck
Reason: Dispute over cost escalation
Earlier target: April-2008
Expected now: Dec-2008
Length: 6km
Cost: Rs1,306 crores

Worli Nariman Point Sea Link
Status: Bids not invited
Reason: PIL filed against project by NGO Federation of Environment and Development Organisation, which is demanding another study
Length: 13.75km
Cost: Rs4,143 crores
Bids: Not yet invited

Sewri-Nhava Seva Trans-harbour Sea Link
Status: Bids to be invited by Dec 15th 2007
Reason for delay: Reliance Energy had moved the court against MSRDC disqualifying its bid to build the bridge. Supreme Court lifted the order and extended the date for filing bids to Dec 15th 2007. High Court clearance also awaited.
Length: 22km
Cost: Rs4,000crores

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Broken window theory in Mumbai

If only. But, the DNA reports today
The Mumbai police, on Thursday, took their first - even if an unwitting - step towards adapting the broken-windows approach when they urged the courts to hand down tough sentences to violators of traffic rules.

Three men had to spend a night in prison for such offences as reckless changing of lanes and breaking the speed limit
One night in prison is hardly enough to stop our intrepid traffic violators in the city. Take a look around and you should realise that the perception (myth?) about driving in Mumbai being disciplined, is all but over. More vehicles, less roads, more work and less time has resulted in all of us blissfully breaking almost every rule while driving. From lane cutting to talking on cell-phones while driving to not stopping before zebra crossing at signals, etc.

Leave alone pondering on the broken window theory, if only Mumbai's traffic police could just keep no-parking zones free of cars parked there, you'd see miraculous results on traffic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What of the people

In the closing lines of her weekly column in HT today (e-paper link), Sujata Anandan notes
It could be such a merry situation for the critics, if it were not already so pathetic: Uddhav and Raj Thackeray, who should actually stand united behind Bal Thackeray, are now bitter enemies. Munde and [Nitin] Gadkari cannot see eye to eye. Uddhav and Gadkari would rather no have anything to do with each other. [Prabha] Rau will not leave any stone unturned to do Deshmukh in and his nuanced barbs against her are beginning to add pep to the situation. All those who should be friends with each other really seem just interested in ironing out their respective rivals.

Is anyone out there giving a thought to the people, by the way?
Touche. That in a nutshell is the state of politics, or the politics of the state, today.

What happens at the state level has an obvious bearing on Mumbai. Our key agencies are pretty much run by politicians. For example, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine has a majority at the BMC, while the MMRDA is run (or at least headed) by the Congress. Key policy and reform measures are taken by politicians.

In the last few weeks, newspapers have been full of reports of the weakening position of CM Vilasrao Deshmukh in the Congress camp and the launch of a bid by the Prabha Rau (President, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee) camp, for the CM post. Likely candidates have included Narayan Rane, Sushilkumar Shinde, etc. However, Shri Deshmukh has clung on to his post.

Rumours and newspaper reports apart, the fact is that without a firm and resolute leadership at the helm, nothing meaningful can be done for Mumbai. Fighting within, and between, political parties, can only hold back reforms, irrespective of how urgent these reforms are.

The current Congress+Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine has now spent three years ruling Maharashtra. Over at the BMC, the Shiv Sena - BJP combine was re-elected to power earlier this year. It would not be an exaggeration to say that all these political parties have done precious little for the city.

Almost every infrastructure project being executed is facing delay for a variety of reasons. Count among them the Mumbai Metro (land acquisition, rehab of project-affected people), Bandra Worli Sealink (losses claimed by the contractor, disputed by the Govt) and the MUTP (funding, rehab, etc). There are some projects, like Brimstowad and Middle Vaitarna, that haven't even taken off.

Political interference continues to impact projects that are hoping to take off in the near future. For example, Dharavi Re-development - the Government has suspiciously extended the eligibility date from 1995 to 2000; i.e. the later the date the more people that can be issued free housing (think populist measure), underscoring yet again the execution challenges ahead for this mega project.

Or take the Crawford Market Re-development issue. Why did all the corporators in the BMC (this includes all the parties in the BMC, not just the Shiv Sena-BJP) suddenly approve the scheme after being opposed to it for the better part of the last one year?

I don't even want to talk about the policy measures here because those have not even come out of the confines of the Vidhan Sabha. Does anyone remember whatever happened to the Housing Policy? or the repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act? or the transformation of Mumbai into an International Finance Centre?

Too many questions, too few answers. Too many politicians, too many fights. And too much delay that will always cost the city dear. Indeed, is anyone thinking about the people?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

R.I.P. J.B. D'Souza

For a variety of reasons this post has come much later than it should have and I regret it.

Ex-Chief Secretary of Maharashtra and Ex-Bombay Municipal Commissioner, Joseph Bain D'Souza passed away on Sep 2nd, 2007.

I had the honor of meeting him a few times and I wish I'd been born earlier to have seen him in action. One of the reasons I started this blog was to raise awareness - and none more than my own - about issues that plague this metropolis.

In all my writings and learnings, the one thing I came to realize was the near-infinite value of a few good men. People with values, people who get things done and aren't afraid to stand their ground. Mumbai needs people like these. Because that's what it takes to change things. And J. B. D'Souza was one such person.

In the past few years, almost every minister and bureaucrat with an arm and a leg in Mumbai never missed a chance to get photographed next to the Mithi, or crib about how little Mumbai "gets from the centre" or how its multiple agencies screw things up, or OD on giving false hope on just about every important project in this city. Earlier this year, among the first few things that the mayor of Mumbai did after being appointed mayor, was rush to New York, family included. Time and again, politicians and bureaucrats go on foreign jaunts by the dozens to learn things from other cities (Shanghai?). I've not heard of anything significant being implemented in Mumbai.

And there you had J. B. D'Souza who, even after retirement, went after issues that he believed in. Implementation of the Srikrishna Commission report, low-cost housing and action against corrupt officers are the few that come to my mind and I'm sure there will be others. No headlines, no sound-bites on TV channels, just tirelessly going after things that he believed in. For a minute, can you even imagine any other politician or bureaucrat doing this in Mumbai? I can't.

That's when you realise the need, and importance, of people with a sense of duty and responsibility and people who get things done. I believe J. B. D'Souza was one such man. And Mumbai needs many more.

Rest in peace, sir. This city - this country - has lost a son who served it well, bringing honor to the term "public servant"....a term which seems quite mundane when put next to his name.

Go well sir, you will be missed. Sorely.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Quick vital stats on Dharavi

Some vital stats on the Dharavi Redevelopment Project. (source)
Area: 535acres; to be developed into five sectors

Ownership: 69% owned by BMC, 10% by state and central governments and balance 21% is private land

Families affected: 50-60,000; each will get one 225sqft tenement as rehabilitation

Industrial units: 4,500. Each will the same 225sqft tenement.

Companies bidding: 26 consortia, i.e. combinations of global players and domestic ones. For eg. Reliance Land + Hines Real Estate, HDIL + Lehman, Runwal Group + Capitaland, etc.

Bid document: Handed out to 101 companies at Rs1lakh/document.

Scrutiny of bids: Under progress, to be completed by Sept-end

Short-listed candidates: To be announced after scrutiny is over. Five developers (consortia as above) who will develop one sector each.

Bid submission: Technical and finance bids by above short-listed candidates to be submitted by October 15, 2007

Bid finalisation: By December 15, 2007

Size of project: Rs9,250crores, or US$2.3billion.

Now, consider this: Dharavi is an entire economy on its own. To replace that with proper real-estate development is not going to be easy. Its one thing to provide free housing to a slum-dweller, but another to replace his daily wage, assuming that's even possible. Unless, politicians and builders get together and with their combined strength move this forward.

Wonder why there are no protests here from any political party over issues like consent of the residents, land acquisition, substitution of income, environmental and infrastructure impact, etc.. No agitations, no protests. Nothing.

Back up. Did you say "Politicians and builders get together"?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mumbai Voter Id Card - Update

When I last posted on how to get your Election Photo ID Card (EPIC), or voters card, I received many queries pertaining to the schedules for the issue of the EPICs across various areas. Unfortunately the Chief Electoral Officer's website has stopped posting these schedules online.

However, I know for a fact that this exercise is underway in Mumbai because (a) I've seen ads in Worli notifying the dates when these cards will be issued and (b) I've also seen vans with election officials roaming in streets in Santacruz, armed with loudspeakers, urging citizens to apply for the EPIC.

I'm now sure when (if at all) the CEO plans to upload the schedule on their website. Till then, for those who want to get their voter ID cards, I can point you to two links as below.

1. For those in Mumbai City (i.e. from Colaba to Mahim): please visit the Mumbai City Collector's website (click here)

2. For those in Mumbai Suburbs (i.e. from Bandra to Dahisar): please visit the Mumbai Suburban Collector's website (click here)

Both the links provide you with the phone numbers of the Collector's Office. Once you have these numbers, do the following -

1. Call at the numbers and simply ask "how do I get my voter ID card?". You will be asked where you stay and then given the phone number of the relevant office in your area.

2. Call that number and ask for the details. For e.g. "What is the schedule for issue of voter ID cards in my area", "Where do I go to my voter ID card", etc. etc.

I hope this works for you.

Request to other bloggers/aggregators - if any of you kind people think this message (relevant only for Mumbaikars) is worthy of spreading, please link or copy paste, etc. Thanks.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Moving to new domain

This blog will now be hosted under my own domain name. Here is the new address. You don't have to do anything, but in case you have any problems in accessing this blog or feed, please leave a comment. Thanks.

Also, apologies for the nth time in not posting. As always, I will be back.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mid-year round-up Mumbai, part 2

Part 1 of my round-up is here. This is the second, and concluding, part. Comments, as always, welcome.


Real estate – going for broke

So, did your dream house get cheaper? Don’t be surprised if it didn’t. And heck, at least it didn’t get any more expensive. Brokers and builders – at least those in suburbs – are now a lot less arrogant than last year. They’re willing to talk, perhaps even negotiate if you’re a “genuine buyer”. Why? courtesy the interest rate hikes earlier this year, which pretty much took the steam off property prices in Mumbai.

But don’t rejoice. “Affordable housing” remains as believable as traffic-free roads in Mumbai. Builders remain firmly in control. And the Government remains firmly indecisive.

The much-hyped, toothless, housing policy was finally tabled in the Monsoon Session of the State Assembly and almost all experts believe it’s impossible to implement. Low-income group houses next to high-income group ones? No way. And what kind of builder would take up such a project? Ironically, the Government wants to encourage a public-private partnership with this policy. Don’t expect to hear too much on this front as we settle into the second half.

Do, of course, expect to hear more on the slum rehabilitation project at Dharavi. This is a project where politicians have made huge amounts of money – illegally. You couldn’t find a better example of the politician-criminal-builder nexus. RTI activist, Shailesh Gandhi, who filed a Public Interest Litigation on this matter, recently sent a mail detailing everything that’s happened – or not – so far. Read here for more details. Meanwhile, almost all of the large, organised, and now listed, developers like DLF, Unitech, HDIL, etc. are all bidding for a piece of what will be a vastly lucrative pie. For everyone.

Funny how the Government is moving with focus on Dharavi, while soft-pedalling on key regulatory issues like the housing policy.

Or like repealing the Urban Land Ceiling Act. We’re no closer than we were last year.

Why is repealing the Act so important? Simply because the city needs infrastructure funds from the Central Government, which makes these funds available to cities under their Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). But, cities have to fulfil certain conditions. Like repealing ULCA. And Maharashtra is among the last few states where the law still exists. Even after agreeing to repeal this law – which incidentally was followed in exceptions rather than the rule – the Government isn’t any closer to actually repealing it. It didn’t make it through the winter legislature session last year, and it’s not made it through the monsoon session this year.

So, what do we look forward to in the second half of this year? Property rates aren’t expected to fall, but not many expect a meteoric rise either. Don’t expect anything from the Government to increase supply. The Mill Land sales remain stuck over one issue or another. The housing policy could remain just another ineffectual document. While last year, the CM indicated that the Government might release lands acquired under the ULCA earlier to cool down property rates, nothing of that sort has happened.

Roads – Building bridges

Regular commuters on the western side won’t miss the hectic activity off Bandra Reclamation’s shores. Yup, the Bandra Worli Sealink (BWSL) is hustling and bustling with activity. And Public Works Minister, Shri Anil Deshmukh would give anything to be photographed cutting the ribbon next year, due April 2008. Yes, we’re all waiting. Waiting to be stuck in Worli, which will import Mahim’s traffic jam, once the BWSL is ready. Simply because, without the Worli-Nariman Point Sealink, the traffic could very much just shift from one place to be another, only quicker. Incidentally, the controversial Peddar Road Flyover seems to have gone into limbo.

But enough about South Mumbai.

Another sealink which was proposed 30 years ago, but hasn’t been as fortunate as the BWSL, is the Mumbai Transharbour Link, which would connect Sewri to JNPT (Nhava Seva). Nothing’s happened on this project so far in 2007. Just like nothing’s happened on Reliance’s SEZ plans in and around JNPT, Navi Mumbai. Coincidence?.

Coming back on the western side, if there’s one stretch of major road that the city can be proud of completion, as some sign of some progress, it is the Western Express Highway. Widening of this critical highway, around the Borivali and Kandivali area is almost done. 24km long, 61m wide, strengthened at a cost of Rs200crores. Phew, heave that sigh of relief. And you can see the difference if you’ve driven there. On the other side, a similar job on the Eastern Express Highway is also nearing completion.

On an east-west basis as well, the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR) and the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR) are due for completion between Jan-June 2008. Even the World Bank – which had, btw, suspended funding of the MUTP road component in March-2006 – said it found “tangible process”. Let’s hope it stays that way. After all, in Mumbai, any progress is good progress.

That concludes my round-up. I will revisit these issues for the 2008 curtain-raiser.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What I'm not doing fishing...that too before sunset.

Yes, yes, I've been away and yes, yes, I will return.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mid-year round-up Mumbai, part 1

My article for the Hafta. Do check out its new look here. Comments welcome.


Six months into 2007, we take a two-part round-up of where the city is on various key issues.

Politics and governance:

The Shiv Sena + BJP combine won the Municipal elections in February 2007, to the surprise of those who had assumed that the departures of Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane and the death of Pramod Mahajan had all but decimated this partnership. Surprisingly, the partnership that runs the state – the Congress and the NCP – was the one which fell apart even before the elections began, over the issue of – what else? – how many seats each party would get once they win the elections.

For the Shiv Sena + BJP, this victory, coupled with their win in Ramtek (Lok Sabha constituency election held in April-07) could mark their comeback, well in time for the state polls due in 2009. Confidence in the Sena is running high and there’s already talk of and end to their tie-up with the BJP.

Narayan Rane, the man in charge of “ensuring” a Congress victory in the BMC polls, must be one worried man, having been pretty much marginalised in the overall scheme of things. Another worried man is current Chief Minister Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, with talks doing the rounds that he is on his way out as CM.

Why are these politics important for Mumbai? Simply because these are the people calling the shots on everything. With the BMC back in the control of the Shiv Sena + BJP, expect more clashes between the BMC and the MMRDA (run by the Congress+NCP). We saw it last year and we will see more of it. Think abandoned dug-up roads, unfinished projects, delayed projects, etc. etc.

Moreover, with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena winning a few seats in the BMC polls, they’d now like to consider themselves as a formidable, if small, opposition (read – ready for tie-ups). Sample how they recently filled up a gaping hole outside Shivaji Park with three truck loads of sand. That hole was dug up by the BMC for some work, which was as usual delayed.

If there was one positive sign from the BMC election, it was the victory of lone ranger, Mr. Adolf D’Souza. There’s a lot to learn from this seemingly unnoticed event. Imagine what it means if a bunch of people from one neighbourhood (in this case Juhu) come together in an systematic, almost surgical manner, and get a trusted, proven person elected as a Corporator / Councillor, I think it’s a huge victory for the city. More to his ilk. You get one of these only once every four years. I hope is preparing their next candidates for the 2011 election.

Infrastructure: Rail

Work continues on upgradation of the three routes which are part of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP). These routes are in varying stages of completion. Target? June 2008.

(a) Borivali – Virar (project known as Borivali-Virar Quadrupling of Rail or BVQR): 26kms, Rs509crores, two tracks. All to double the space on this busy route. This is the project that made the weekend of May 26/27th 2007 unforgettable for rail commuters in the city. 25% of all Western Rail routes between Churchgate and Virar were cancelled or terminated early, for work on the BVQR project. This entire project was supposed to get over on June 30, 2007. I’m not sure of the current status.

(b) Borivali – Mahim: While the MMRDA site states that the line between Santacruz to Borivali has already been laid out, I’m not sure if the stretch between Santacruz and Mahim has been laid out. Although one can clearly see the extra fifth line at Mahim station.

(c) Kurla – Thane: 18kms, Rs166crores, two tracks. 45% complete.

Had enough? That was just Phase I of the project. Phase II involves two new tracks between (a) CST and Kurla and (b) between Thane and Diwa and (c) a sixth line between Borivali and Mumbai Central. The aim of both phases is to ensure that only local trains run between Mumbai Central and Borivali (on Western Side) and between CST and Kalyan (on Central Side).

That was the good news. Now for the…

Mumbai Metro: A.k.a. no progress is really no progress. The Mumbai Metro celebrated its first anniversary of being flagged off on 21st June 2007. One year, not much work. Sure, you can see some snazzy boards that have come up in Versova, but that’s all that’s happened. The project remains plagued by problems relating to land acquisition, rehabilitation of shopkeepe rs, etc. etc. The status, if any, of the project remains unclear and its website is not particularly helpful either.

Coming up soon, a round-up of roads and real estate.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

11 July 2006: Never forget

6.24pm Khar Road - Santacruz
6.24pm Bandra - Khar Road
6.25pm Platform 1, Jogeshwari
6.26pm Platform 3, Mahim
6.29pm Mira Road - Bhayandar
6.30pm Matunga Road - Mahim Junction
6.35pm Platform 4, Borivali

11 minutes
7 blasts
186 dead
544 seriously injured
312 suffered minor injuries

A year on, this is an update (pg2, TOI, dt. 8th July 2007)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sorry for the interruption

I am painfully aware that posting here has dropped. This is thanks to work pressures and some other commitments. I will be back soon. I know there's a lot happening in Mumbai (not just the rains which washed out both of the last two weekends) and I hope to catch up with it soon. Hang in there.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Save the tiger project

I had my caricature done, as part of the Save The Tiger project.

If you'd like to have one for yourself, and help the project, please do visit this blog to sign up.

PS - have been quite unwell in these last few days. Work pressures and other things are taking up time. I will be back, just give me some time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

BMC corporators disqualified for faking caste certificate

Elections are always about numbers. Take the recent Bombay Municipality Elections. The ones that decide who runs your neighborhood, and pretty much the city of Mumbai. In Feb-2007, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine won these elections with a majority of 119 seats out of the total 227.

Of the 227 seats, 74 are reserved and caste certificates have to be submitted by the candidates to the Divisional Caste Verification Committee. However, this has to be done after the elections.

These certificates are now being examined by the CVC. Turns out that many of these respected councilors have submitted fake caste certificates. Anything to win the election, I guess.

As per an Indian Express article, these are some of the abovementioned honorable people (full article here) (for a comprehensive list of all the winners, go here)

  1. Yadav Lalji Ramkishore — Samajwadi Party
  2. Chonkar Manmohan S — Shiv Sena
  3. Shaikh Mohammed Hussain— Samajwadi party
  4. Pahudkar Rashmi Rane— Shiv Sena
  5. Khan Harun Yusuf — NCP
  6. Pawar Narayan Janu — Independent
  7. Chougule Shirish Chintaman — MNS
  8. Pravin Devhare — Shiv Sena
  9. Subhash Kanta Sawant — Shiv Sena
  10. Mahadeshwar Pandurang — Shiv Sena
  11. Dnyanmurti Sharma — BJP
  12. Simantini Narkar — Shiv Sena
  13. Suresh Gangan — Shiv Sena
Mere disqualification won't hold them back though. Most of them have approached the High Court to stay this order, and would be fairly confident of prolonging the process and holding to the seat for dear life.

Some voices on this matter below, for your perusal:

Shiv Sena councillor and leader of the House Sunil Prabhu—whose party has nine councillors with discrepancies in their caste certificates—is confident that Sena corporators will manage to obtain a stay order. He claims that mere technicalities in the certificates have been intentionally used against these corporators.

“But we are sure that the Judiciary will rule in our favour,” said Prabhu, adding that even if that is not the case, a by-election is not likely to disturb the existing distribution of seats. [>>]

"The scrutiny committee has been unfair to us but we have faith in the high court. Even if by-elections are called for in these wards, we are sure winning of these seats again" said Sunil Prabhu, Sena leader in the BMC.[>>]

Crying foul over the large number of members to be disqualified, Mhadeshwar said, "The committee is working under government pressure. I am an OBC and my caste certificate mentions it. But the committee refuses to recognise it. The committee appears intent on bringing discomfort to the Sena alliance."[>>]

Shiv Sena, however, is sure that it won’t lose any of its members. The party blamed Rane for trying to disqualify corporators of the Sena-BJP combine. “I am very sure that Narayan Rane is behind this disqualification bid as the committee which is verifying the caste certificates comes under the revenue department. Why is it that only the Sena corporators have been issued notices?” questioned Shiv Sena corporator Vishwanath Mhadeshwar.[>>]

Pretty much the state of civic administration in the city, not that you needed any reminders.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mumbai's constituencies for voting

This comment here, set me off to find which constituency I belong to. It turned out that there's not one, but three. That's because there are three elections in which we vote - Bombay Municipal, Maharashtra State and the General Elections.

Here are the details of each election and the relevant constituency (purely from Mumbai's perspective)

1. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM/BMC) -

Last held: Feb-2007

We vote for: Councilor

Division: Into 227 electoral wards, clubbed under 27 administrative wards

Numbering: Electoral Wards are numbered 1 to 227. Administrative wards are from "A" to "T"

For example, Pali Hill and Lilavati Hospital are both in Bandra. But Pali Hill falls under electoral ward no. 96 and Lilavati Hospital under electoral ward no. 97. And both wards (nos 96 and 97) fall under Ward H/West. So, there are 227 electoral wards (and hence 227 councilors) clubbed under 24 administrative wards. The electoral wards are numbered 1 through 227 and the administrative wards are numbered A through T.

To know which electoral ward you stay in (it will be numbered between 1 and 227), read my earlier post on the BMC elections. Or, if you're willing to put in the effort, download this very detailed powerpoint presentation here, which gives the boundaries of each and every electoral ward. The presentation has (obviously) 227 slides and is in Marathi.

2. Maharashtra State Elections:

Last held: October 2004

We vote for: Member of Legislative Assembly

Division: Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban

Numbering: 34 Assembly Constituencies. 17 each in Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban as below (source here)

Mumbai City
23-Opera House
24-Malbar Hill

Mumbai Suburban
38-Vile Parle

3. General Elections:

Last held: May 2004

We vote for: Member of Parliament

Division: No sub division

Numbering: Six Parliamentary Constituencies numbered 4 to 9 as below (Source)
4 - Mumbai South
5 - Mumbai South Central
6 - Mumbai North Central
7 - Mumbai North East
8 - Mumbai North West
9 - Mumbai North

Looking at the above, it makes sense, doesn't it? Locality, City and Country. I have the right and duty to vote for the person in charge of all three. If you look at any political party poster in your area - and assuming they all belong to the same party - then you'd probably find the mugs of the Municipal Councilor, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Member of Parliament (MP) on it.

To put things in perspective, Mumbai has 227 councilors in the BMC, 34 MLAs in the State Assembly and 6 MPs in the Parliament. These are the people you elect, these are the people responsible for your area and these are the people who represent it in the Municipality, Assembly and Parliament.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Would you pay Mr. Adolf D'Souza Rs1 per day?

A group of residents of a common locality used to meet often with a mutual interest of maintenance, cleanliness and general well-being of the area where they all stayed together. You know, the usual things, roads, drains, etc. So, they formed a common group for the welfare of the area they all stayed in.

You’ve seen this so many times in Mumbai. Residents of say, one road in say, 10 buildings form a group. The group would then meet with the BMC (Bombay Municipality Corp.) and take up matters. Drains are clogged, garbage’s not been picked up, etc.

In some cases – like waste management – the BMC helped them out. In others – like drainage work, road repair, etc. – they resisted. After all, if the residents are going to do all the work, then what good are the elected Municipal councilors?. But our group persisted and managed to get their work done using the law (think RTI).

Seeing this, other people from near-by roads and neighbourhoods also formed their own groups, with the help of the first group. They began solving their problems, using the law, working with the BMC.

The BMC figured that if you can’t beat them, join them. So the BMC's engineers (looking after roads, drainage, etc) began meeting up with these groups and together, they worked their way around problems of the area.

Till one fine day, these groups figured they’d be better off if someone among them is elected into the BMC. Why fight the system if you can change it from within? Especially when a person who you trust, who is part of your group and who has delivered is also now willing to represent your area in the BMC?

And so, the message goes across all the groups in all the roads in all the neighbourhoods. "Vote for Mr. X as your representative in the Municipality". A systematic campaign at the grassroot level begins, backed by internet-driven efforts, e-mails, wikis, and what-have-yous..

Mr. X wins. The campaign has worked. A victory for democracy and a case-study for the effectiveness of public involvement in civic matters.

So far so good? Just one small problem now.

Mr. X is not supported by any political party. Ah, politics. No getting around it, is there? Look at the rest of the BMC – don’t all of their people belong to a political party? Almost all of them do. But why does it matter if Mr. X. doesn’t belong to any political party?

Here’s why – the BMC pays Mr. X Rs4,000 per month for his salary and his office’s running expenses (i.e. staff, stationery, etc.). If Mr. X belonged to a political party, all this would be booted by the party itself.

And to quote Mr. Adolf D’Souza – Mr. X in our little story:

Currently, I am a ward committee chairman, so BMC has provided me with a car and staff. But my tenure as committee head ends next year, and I will not be able to manage expenses because I will have to bear all costs on my own. Why doesn’t the corporation increase the amount given to corporators? This will also help reduce corruption.
Why indeed does it not? But come on, the BMC is not going to raise councilor salaries in a jiffy, right? Besides if all the political parties take care of their councilors, then why should the BMC raise salaries across-the-board for one candidate?

So, any ideas on what should be done?

Try this: Ask the people who elected you – about 4,000 in all – to pay about Rs1/working day towards his salary. Which works out to..lets see…Rs1*25 working days*4,000 people = Rs100,000. Rs1lakh a month. That sounds better. Enough for an area as large as Ward 63 – or that part of Juhu that got together and elected Mr. D’Souza as their Municipal Councilor.

My question to you – if you were a resident of Juhu, if you had elected Mr. D’Souza to office and if you believe in his execution capabilities, would you pay this man Rs25 per month?

I would.

Not everyone will. Read these reactions (from today’s DNA).
Mitesh Shah, Juhu – “Adolf D’Souza should have approached the BMC first rather than approaching voters from his ward. What if all corporators followed his example and asked citizens for financial help? What are we paying taxes for? This is the corporator’s new method to earn extra money. I am definitely not paying. I'd much rather give it to the hungry and poor and rest assured that my money is helping someone. Let D’Souza and the BMC resolve the matter among themselves.”

Candy Cornello - How did other independent corporators before Adolf D'Souza manage their office? If the BMC really underpays its people, how come none of the corporators have raised their voice yet? I don’t mind paying the corporator Re1 a day, as it is hardly going to burn a hole in my pocket. But it's unwise on the corporator’s part to ask funds from people instead of the BMC.

Mauren D ’Souza - Mr D'Souza is abusing democracy by asking Juhu voters for help. Why did he take up the job if he was not capable of delivering? The BMC must be having certain standard of payments that were followed by corporators till date. How come no other corporator complained? Re1 is a paltry sum. But what is the guarantee that he won't take bribes apart from this money he will 'collect' from us? If I have my math right, D'Souza is asking for a bit too much than actually needed. If the BMC can't pay them for their services, they should seek employment elsewhere.
These people are asking valid questions. Somehow I can't see it in such black and white.

Sure, I have no idea how other independent Municipal councilors/corporators have managed all these years. Just like I have no idea how effective these other councilors/corporators were and what their track record was. But I do know that Mr. D'Souza has a decent track record.

Sure, I can file an application under RTI with the BMC to find out how the taxes they collect from me are spent. But will that reveal anything path-breaking? Besides, I already know that councilor/corporator salaries are Rs4,000/month (plus Rs150-600 per meeting). So I'm not sure how effective an RTI application would be to work around this situation.

Now, what if Mr. D’Souza were to resign because of lack of funding? And in place of him, is elected someone from a political party; someone I don’t know and someone likely not endorsed by local citizens groups. In other words, same old, same old. What then? He could deliver and then again he couldn't.

Why should lack of funding stop a good man from doing his job? Will he really set a precedent for others? I think the public would know enough to spend their money on someone who delivers, as against a rank outsider. Besides, I doubt whether a councilor from a political party would ask us money for his salary.

Purely from the maintenance and development of the area where I stay and purely from my support for this individual, if I got an email asking for Rs25/month to help pay for his expenses, I think I would pay up.

What would you do?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Get your Voter Photo ID Card now

Update - If you have not received your voter ID card, please read this first.

- I've received a lot of comments on queries pertaining to schedule, forms, etc. For all these matters, could I request readers to please keep checking the Chief Electoral Officer, Maharashtra's website for details on the voter photo-ID program.

In case your question is still not answered, please...

(a) Read this ad here, which has an SMS number and e-mail address to be contacted in case of queries

(b) Read these FAQs here.

Parel (Assembly Constituency #28 has been added to the list. If you stay in Parel, check the EPIC schedule for that area here).

For those who missed out on voting in the BMC elections, here's your chance - a full two years in advance - to ensure that you don't miss out on voting in the 2009 Elections in Maharashtra.

Did you notice this while reading your newspaper today?

The State Election Commission has initiated a commendable drive to issue your Elector Photo Identity Card (EPIC), or simply Voter ID card, on the spot. That's right. I got mine done in just under 15 minutes, by going to the local Election Registration Office (ERO).

While you are supposed to get an notification slip at your home with your name, ERO address and further details on how to get the EPIC, chances are - as they were in my case - you might have not got this slip.

Of course, chances are you might not even be on the Electoral Rolls (more on that in a later part of this post) but neither of these issues are big problems. Read further on how to tackle them.

The EC is currently holding the EPIC program in four constituencies (Chembur, Nehru Nagar, Mulund and Khetwadi).

Earlier, it has completed the drive in six other constituencies (Dadar, Matunga, Amboli, Bandra, Mumbadevi and Mahim).

If you belong to any of the eleven constituencies mentioned above, here's the checklist for getting your EPIC.

1. First and foremost, check if your name appears on the Electoral Rolls. Don't groan. You can do this online. Go here and click on the "SEARCH ELECTORAL ROLLS" tab.

2. If your name appears correctly on the rolls, then go to point 4 below.

3. If there are any problems in your name then click on the following links to apply ONLINE (yes, online and not go to any office)..

Click here to to have your name included (Form 6)

Click here to delete a name in the Rolls (Form 7)

Click here to modify your name (Form 8)

Click here to change your address (Form 8a)

4. After your name is included on the rolls, you have to go to your local election office.

A> If you belong to the following constituencies, click on the link to view a detailed schedule of the program in your area. Each area has multiple EROs. Go to any one of them with proof of identity and residence (ideally a ration card, drivers license, passport, etc), and that's it. You should be issued your EPIC by the (very helpful) election staff at the ERO.

47 Chembur

48 Nehru Nagar

52 Mulund

22 Khetwadi

B> If you belong to the constituencies below (where the drive has already been conducted), you can still get your EPIC. I've given the ERO address (same as in the third ad above) next to the constituency name and number. Just walk in to the ERO with proof of ID/residence (ideally a ration card, drivers license, passport), and you should get your EPIC at these EROs.

Dadar (AC 32) - Govt. Technical High School and Jr. College, 1st Floor, Room No. 5, Dadar (W), Mumbai - 28

Mazgaon (AC 27) - M. H. B. Building No. 1/2, Ground Floor, Abhyudaya Nagar, Kala Chowki, Mumbai - 33

Amboli (AC 39) - P. W. D. Barracks, D. N. Road, Andheri (W), Mumbai - 58

Bandra (AC 36) - R. V. Technical School, 17th Road, Khar (W), Mumbai - 52

Mumbadevi (AC 21) - Taraporwala Aquarium Building, 1st Floor, Netaji Subash Chandra Road, Charni Road, Mumbai - 2.

Mahim (AC 34) -
Badminton Hall, Below Flyover Bridge (Western Railway), Mumbai

This is one of the most comprehensive efforts undertaken to increase voter registration. I've never seen a simpler, voter-friendly way of getting the EPIC (which, btw, is as important a document as your passport). I've tried the system and it works. Now you try it.

In fact, if you believe that others should know more about this, then spread the word. Thanks in advance.