Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mumbai: Curtain raiser 2007

And you thought 2006 was bad ? Consider this. In all likelihood, 2007 could well see more roads being dug up, more homes rehabilitated and more projects being approved or kicked off (which will require both of the above), than the city has seen in recent history.

Here’s a preview of some of key events that will shape Mumbai in 2007.

Politics and governance – a year of reckoning
It doesn’t get bigger than this. India’s richest civic body, the Bombay Municipal Corp., goes to polls on Feb 1st 2007. Recall that the BMC is currently being run by the BJP-Shiv Sena, while the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is chaired by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. There’s been enough tension between both organisations on who takes credit (and blame?) for what in the city.

The ruling state combine of the Indian National Congress Party + Nationalist Congress Party could choose to go it alone in the polls (read ‘yet to decide on final seat-sharing between both parties’) given that the opposition BJP-Shiv Sena combine is facing its own set of issues.

However, things within the Congress Party aren’t exactly hunky dory. As if in-party opposition from Mumbai Regional Congress Committee Chairman, Gurudas Kamath wasn’t enough, Chief Minister Deshmukh also has to cope with the rising prominence of ex-Shiv Sainik, Narayan Rane who is gathering enough support to put him within shooting distance of the plum Chief Minister post.

Victory for the Congress would mean ruling the BMC and the MMRDA – enough to die for. Victory for the BJP-Shiv Sena would mean a new lease of life. More importantly, the performance of all these political parties will largely be seen as a precursor to the assembly elections in 2009.

Then there are the smaller parties, like Arun Gawli’s Akhil Bhartiya Sena and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena who could make life difficult from the larger parties. Also watch out for the debut of Lok Paritran which is fielding three candidates for the elections.

Finally, Mumbaikars themselves are gearing up for the polls. For example, in the posh suburb of Juhu, a citizen welfare group, tired of the lack of governance, and backed by the Votemumbai governance model, will be fielding their own candidates for the BMC elections. Action for Good Governance and networking in India (AGNI) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) are finalising a system of rating candidates and Karmayog, an effort of bringing together NGOs, is running a campaign of raising awareness among citizens ahead of the civic elections.

If you stay in Mumbai, I'd like to take this opportunity to urge you to vote on Feb 1st. To know more, especially if you want to ensure you get to vote do visit the websites of AGNI and karmayog.

Infrastructure and transport – Waiting to exhale
Almost every transport project in the city is facing inordinate delays.

Take the Mumbai Metro Rail. Or at least the one leg (Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar or VAG) which saw the light of day in July-2006. Precious little has been moved since the Prime Minister himself flagged off this project. Newspaper reports suggest that the issue of viability gap funding is yet to be resolved, leave alone actual construction work for this massive project. Also bear in mind, that while the VAG leg has been awarded to Reliance Energy, the other legs of the Metro (for example, Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd) have yet to be awarded. Hope for some progress on this front in 2007.

On the roads front, both the important road projects under the MMRDA’s Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), i.e. the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR) and the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR), have seen cost overruns and delays in execution. They also survived a scare of the World Bank temporarily suspending its funding for these projects in March-2006. Hopefully lessons have been learnt on the relief-rehab issues for this project to see its final light of day.

Work on the Bandra-Worli Sealink (BWSL) has been completed from the Bandra end, and 2007 should see completion of work on the Worli end, if this project has to meet its deadline of early-2008. However, with virtually no visible progress on the Worli-Nariman Point Sealink, one wonders about the overall efficacy of the BWSL to resolve the north-south traffic issues in the city. Moreover, the silence on the Peddar Road Flyover is deafening and perhaps one could hear some noise on this front in 2007.

Some noise in 2007 could also do all the world of good for the ambitious Mumbai Transharbour Sealink, another decades-old project that has barely seen any progress. This link remains vital for the proposed Special Economic Zones (SEZ) across the Eastern shores in Navi Mumbai.

On the rail front, work will continue in 2007 on the rail portion of the MUTP, mainly (a) the fifth line from Borivali to Mahim (currently laid down from Santacruz to Mahim), (b) the additional pair of tracks between Kurla and Thane (45% complete per MMRDA website) and (c) additional pair of tracks between Borivali and Virar. There is also some talk of reintroduction of trams in Mumbai.

On the drainage front, the Bombay Municipal Corp’s decades-old Storm Water Drainage Project (BRIMSTOWAD) finally received approval from the Central Government in 2006. However given the size and timeline of this Rs1,200crore-project, one could be a tad optimistic in expecting a flood-free Mumbai this monsoon.

Real estate – Opening up or up and away?
As discussed in an earlier post, while a lot of ‘supply’ has been released, one wonders if these will get property prices down in Mumbai. For starters, headline property rates could see a spike with the new housing policy (which calls for carpet-area based transactions as against built-up area) coming into effect in 2007.

The National Textile Corp (NTC) is due to put its mills on the block in 2007, following last year’s Supreme Court verdict on this controversial issue. While what price they fetch is keenly awaited, the impact of these sales on property prices in 2007 (at least in the Mill Land areas), will depend on how much of these areas are used for commercial purposes and for residential purposes. Similarly, redevelopment will continue at its frenzied pace in the suburbs in 2007, more so now with the bans on development in specified corridors being lifted in 2006.

The Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act (ULCRA) is likely to be repealed – at least if funds from the Centre for Mumbai’s infrastructure are to be expected – in 2007, which, (or at least the Chief Minister so expects), could get property prices down in Mumbai. Progress on opening up of the Mumbai Port Trust lands and use of Mumbai’s salt pans will be other key events to watch out for in 2007.

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