Monday, December 31, 2007

Mumbai 2007 – the year that we forget tomorrow

Or as I like to call it 2007 – The Mumbai That Wasn’t.

No round-up or curtain-raiser this time, instead, here are 10 things that Mumbai didn’t get in 2007.

10. Mumbai Metro – More than a year after being flagged off, no work has started on the Mumbai Metro. Meanwhile Delhi Metro completed 5 years in 2007.

9. The Bandra Worli Sealink – This project has seen it all, cost over-runs, delays and stoppage of work. Originally conceived in 1962, the project will – hopefully – get completed by end-2008.

8. The Mumbai Transharbour Sea Link – This one hasn’t even got a contractor as yet. Brothers Ambani are fighting over it and perhaps one of them will get it in 2008.

7. Traffic – Actually we got loads and loads of traffic. But no solution. As for TRANSFORM – “Transport Study for the Region of Mumbai”, it will soon be a year since their forlorn website was updated.

6. Better trains – While we did get a few new, shiny trains (but it will also take 3 years for 157 more of these to come), trains only got more crowded, forcing commuters to boycott train travel for a day.

5. Electricity – We had to beg and borrow from neighboring states because we’re consuming far, far more than we can get. 24x7 electricity might get short circuited come summer 2008. Batti bandh?

4. Roads – Neither the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road nor the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Roads got completed in 2007. Both are between 3-4 year overdue.

3. Wide Open Spaces Рare now an endangered species. Builders and towers are pass̩ because this year the BMC joined the gang, trying their best to push a shady policy to sell off our grounds.

2. Sane Politicians – The Shiv Sena ranting against ULCRA repeal and Narayan Rane baying for Vilasrao’s Deshmukh’s chair; both these acts eclipse every other inane antic resorted to by Mumbai’s politicians.

1. Affordable Housing – The good news is that property rates didn’t shoot up double once again in 2007. The bad news is no one expects them to come down in 2008. Towers will come up (Mill Lands, Dharavi ) and open spaces (grounds, salt pans) will vanish. But your dream house sure ain’t getting cheaper next year.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Some thoughts on car free day in Mumbai

Mumbai’s Mayor, Dr. Shubha Raul, made an appeal yesterday for a Car-Free Day in Mumbai. I’ve framed a reply below.

Dear Madam,
Thank you for your appeal. It is heartening to see someone from Mumbai’s administrators actually make such an appeal. Even if we're lagging behind other countries on this initiative, I say better late than never. However, I find myself wondering whether I should respond to your appeal for the reasons outlined below.

1. How serious are your own efforts? – On Dec 15th, a group of energetic young people organized “Batti Bandh”. They made an appeal to Mumbaikars to shut down all electrical appliances for an hour. Your organization, the BMC, supported it. The response was dismal. After pledging your support and even shutting the lights of your bungalow, I’d like to ask why the BMC failed to do the same for their headquarters? Why were the hoardings in Mumbai still lit? If we could not achieve anything for one hour of voluntary efforts, how do you think your initiative will work for one full day?

2. How credible is the BMC? – It is very ironic when you say
Earlier, people used to take morning and evening strolls for fresh air, but even these are not pleasant nowadays, thanks to increasing emissions by vehicles. This is alarming.
Have you considered that perhaps the lack of open spaces could also be one reason impacting morning and evening strolls? A few weeks back, the BMC wanted to give away all our open spaces to private clubs because the BMC Chief, Shri Phatak, claimed that the BMC could not protect these open spaces from slums. Earlier, this year you disallowed debate on the Crawford Market redevelopment proposal. Given these questionable decisions how credible is the BMC to ask for a car-free day?

3. How clean is your home? – You say,
The number of people hospitalised with asthma, bronchitis, cancer, lung problems and eye diseases is on the rise. Moreover, noise pollution is causing hearing impairment, blood pressure and stress.
But did you know that between April and September this year, 122 BMC conservancy workers died due to hazardous working conditions [Source]. If you are so concerned about Mumbaikars being hospitalized due to diseases, perhaps you could also show some concern for your own workers, who are also Mumbaikars? Perhaps you could start by at least giving a cause of death for these employees? That’s the least they, and their families, deserve. If you cannot take care of your own employees – who are dying at the rate of 2 every 3 days – how will you take care of our city?

4. What about the other 364 days for public transport? You say
I want to make a beginning towards a pollution-free life for us all. I promise you that when the car-free day happens, I too will travel on local trains or BEST buses. I will expect all of you to follow.

Do not worry about insufficient public transport infrastructure. I assure BEST will add more commuter-friendly buses. If we do not take this initiative, what future will our children have in this era of global warming?
“Insufficient public transport” is not anything new to Mumbaikars. We deal with it everyday because we know the authorities aren’t interested in doing anything about our problems. A few days back, we even refused to travel in trains for a day because of the inhuman traveling conditions. The same trains that you traveled in because you were fed up with traffic on our roads. As for BEST buses, I’m sure you are aware that the BEST is, in fact, closing down some routes because of mounting losses. The writing on the wall has always been clear – Mumbai’s public transport can’t cope with its strains. Are your assurances valid only for one day for your appeal? How serious are you about the other 364 days?

5. What of the other 88%? You say
Once the idea of travelling by public transport catches on, I will encourage you all to do it twice or thrice a month to set an example before the world that we Indians do not lag behind in efforts to save the planet. You may say a once-a-month exercise will not save the city. But my reply is - a thousand-mile journey starts with a single step.
“Idea of public transport catches on?” Did you know that 88% of Mumbaikars already use public transport? So, we caught on to the idea a long time back. We endure the train and the buses, every day. You talk of a single step in a thousand-mile journey. But lakhs of Mumbai’s commuters have been taking single steps on Virar-Churchgate, Kalyan-CST journeys for ages. And their journey has only gotten tougher. For them, for these 88% of Mumbaikars, the car-free day is anyways meaningless. You issue front-page appeals to the 12% of Mumbai’s population that own cars. But what of that small 88% balance?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Batti bandh tomorrow

One hour tomorrow.

From 7.30pm to 8.30pm.

All lights off.

Home, work, wherever.

Do it. Do it because you want to and do it because you believe. And with that one hour, go walk. Go to a park, a garden, a street. It's a Saturday. It's Mumbai. There's always things to do that don't involve starting at a computer screen or a TV screen.

More details here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Voter ID Card Mumbai campaign

The following ad appeared in yesterday's HT.

For those who want their names included/amended, you now have only two weeks to ensure you get this done. (also read this)

In case you've not received the notification at home for this exercise, here's what you should do:

1. If you know your assembly constituency, then go to your polling station given below (Source: Chief Electoral Officer Website). Click on the image for a larger view.

2. In case you don't know your assembly constituency, then
(a) 1. For those in Mumbai City (i.e. from Colaba to Mahim): please visit the Mumbai City Collector's website (click here)

2. For those in Mumbai Suburbs (i.e. from Bandra to Dahisar): please visit the Mumbai Suburban Collector's website (click here)

Call these numbers and ask for further details.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mumbai Metro Phase Two bids in

Meet the seven contenders who have submitted their technical bids for Phase Two of the Mumbai Metro. (Pre-qualification bids happened in June-07)

Consortium 1: L&T, GE, CAF

Consortium 2: Pioneer Infratech, Mitsubishi, Tata Power

Consortium 3: GVK, YTL, Bombardier

Consortium 4: Reliance, Siemens, Gammon

Consortium 5: Essar, Alstom, Lanco

Consortium 6: IL&FS, IL&FS-TN, Punj Lloyd

Consortium 7: Reliance Energy, Reliance Comm, SNC Lavalin

Brief details about Phase Two of the Mumbai Metro
Route: Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd
Cost: Rs6,192crores
Length: 31.87km
No. of stations: 27
Expected passenger load: 1.275m by 2011

Now is also a good time to recall that Phase 1 (Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar) is currently stuck over a 20acre plot in Versova which the MMRDA needs for a car-shed, but which, reportedly, the owner of the plot is reluctant to sell. Update - This is now resolved because with the repeal of the ULCRA, the litigation around the plot should come to an end, paving the way for the MMRDA to strike a deal with the owner. (Source)

Here's wishing the contenders all the best, especially the Ambani Bros. Let's hope they don't do an MTHL here.

Us Mumbaikars, we'll just wait for the traffic jam when the Prime Minister inaugurates Phase Two. Then, we'll just wait. And wait. If we could wait forty years for the Mumbai Metro (remember that the Metro was first mooted as far back as 1967-68), surely we can wait for forty more years.