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.