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?