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?