Parties sidestep issue of crumbling infrastructure in rush to promise new projects

Fatal: The Himalaya Bridge collapse near CSMT claimed seven lives on March 14.  

In the past five years, hundreds of Mumbaikars have lost their lives in disasters such as the collapse of walls, buildings and bridges, and innumerable incidents of fire, tree fall and flooding. However, Mumbai’s crumbling infrastructure is not a pressing issue this Assembly elections. Though several parties have mentioned creation of new infrastructure in their manifestos, none of them have focussed on repairing and maintaining existing infrastructure.

Scant mention

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is responsible for building and maintaining infrastructure, is headed by the Shiv Sena. The Sena’s manifesto makes a string of promises such as concretisation of the Eastern and Western Express Highways, construction of public toilets under flyovers, development of Eastern Water Front, protection of mangroves, creation of urban forests, self redevelopment and cluster redevelopment of old buildings, and redevelopment of slums, Koliwadas, and Gaothans. However, repairing dilapidated bridges and implementing fire safety norms find no mention in the manifesto.

No elaborate plans

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is heading the State government, has made promises in its manifesto to complete the memorials to Bal Thackeray, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Though the BJP manifesto does mention about setting up an independent system for maintenance of roads in the State, it does not elaborate on it.

The joint manifesto of the Congress-NCP alliance talks about giving additional FSI to builders for redevelopment of old buildings and cluster redevelopment. The manifesto has a separate section on implementing disaster management measures such as ‘enforcement of policy regarding dilapidated and old construction in cities to prevent any untoward incident and loss of life and property.’

D.M. Sukhthankar, former municipal commissioner of Mumbai, explained why political parties have decided to ignore fixing the city’s broken infrastructure. He said, “I think it is because maintenance of existing infrastructure does not have as much glamour as building the Shivaji statue. It is the unfortunate truth and I don’t think it will change unless our political parties become that mature. In a city like Mumbai, nobody should have to die while commuting, and yet so many do. Besides, we can’t provide decent toilets to our floating population. People have died due to toilets collapsing.”

Nikhil Desai, an activist based in Dadar, said parties want to distract people from their everyday problems, not find solutions to them. He said, “Parties are fighting this election over issues like Kashmir. In Mumbai, we cannot even prepare for heavy rainfall. This monsoon, we had extremely heavy rainfall on many days. The Sena talks about laying a road network in rural areas, but look at Mumbai’s roads. We can’t even make the important roads in Mumbai pothole-free. So many buildings have fallen, fire is a big issue, but nobody seems to care.”

Bilal Khan of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan has been working with survivors of the Malad wall collapse, which claimed 31 lives. He said, “Many of the injured have still not received the ₹50,000 they were promised as compensation. The BMC wanted to rehabilitate them in Mahul, but when they learnt of the pollution in the area, many chose to stay back. They are now living at the same site, exposed to the same danger. But this is not even a talking point in Dindoshi constituency.”

According to Hussain Indorewala, transport activist and lecturer at Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies, when the State government talks about urban infrastructure, it means carrying out large projects like the Coastal Road and not repairing existing ones. He said, “There is huge spending on new projects, but not on maintenance. Infrastructure in India is developer-driven. Developers always look for new projects. Fires like the one in Kamala Mills happen due to dilutions in the Development Control Regulations.”

Interested in new plans

Since the Himalaya Bridge crash in March, which claimed seven lives, 30 bridges have been declared dilapidated and shut down by the BMC. Sitaram Shelar, convener of Pani Haq Samiti, an organisation fighting to secure the universal right to water through mobilising public opinion, said, “In India, people like to hear new things and not the maintenance of existing things. Votes are given based on that. Repairs do not have as much monetary interest for contractors as new construction.”

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 11:21:41 PM |

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