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.

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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 VoteMumbai.com 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.