MMRDA’s very own Rs 6.5-crore cycle track

The only people who think property prices in Mumbai aren't high enough seem to be sitting in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). Why else would they insist that the dwindling number of flat buyers in Mumbai can afford to shell out another 10 percent of property value on purchase as 'development tax'.

Granted, infrastructure is Mumbai is pretty abysmal when compared to any world-class metropolis. However, going by the MMRDA's track record in creating infrastructure in Mumbai, not many people would be excited about more money being pumped into this organisation in the name of 'infrastructure creation'.

Where are the cyclists? Ivor Soans

Whether it's the first metro line or the monorail, everything is behind schedule—actually, so far behind schedule that it won't be long before some enterprising Mumbaikars start small scale businesses under the half built structures—if they haven't already. But not all is lost. The MMRDA has built some infrastructure that it must be commended for. And here's one example.

In April 2011, the MMRDA inaugurated a cycle track built all around the plush Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), at a cost of Rs 6.5 crore. The organisation ensured a portion of the roads in BKC were cordoned off with dividers, leveled out the track using some green rubberised mix and put up signboards all over--after all, cycle tracks are new for us Indians, a country where usually 50-tonne monster trucks, cars, autorickshaws and bicycles jostle for space in the same lane. Even more helpfully, the MMRDA also ensured cycle stands on some pavements.

So far, so good. There's only a tiny glitch in this entire story. You see, no one uses this Rs 6.5 cycle track. Go to BKC and all you'll see are stray dogs sunning themselves on this cycle track. The problem is simple—while BKC is home to many organisations where a lot of employees would love to cycle in order to stay fit, there's not much point in a cycle track that only exists in BKC. People might use the track if it existed from Dadar to BKC for instance. But sane people don’t exactly drive down to BKC in a car or any other means of transport and then ride a cycle to work.

And as with much of MMRDA's work, this one is also going to pieces in less than a month. Look closely and you'll see the dividers are already coming apart, quite literally. MMRDA additional commissioner S Srinivas was recently quoted in the Times of India as saying: "In the next few years, the BKC will become a prominent business centre and will attract several lakh officer-goers. Some of them can certainly be persuaded to use the track for recreation and exercise."

If this was the long-term plan then perhaps the MMRDA should have used better quality material. More importantly, if the track was created without any study on whether BKC needed such a track but simply with the warm, fuzzy intention that some office goers could be persuaded to use the track for recreation and exercise someday in the future, I’m seriously worried about MMRDA’s planning for the metro rail and the monorail. You see, a public organisation that can spend Rs 6.5 crore on a fuzzy feeling can also blow up Rs 6,500 crore quite easily.

But wait a minute? Didn't this same organisation spend crores in building a residential complex for 30 top MMRDA officials in the BKC itself? The complex included a gymnasium, yoga room and two-tier parking for 36 cars. Don't tell me this Rs 6.5 crore cycle track is simply an extension to their gymnasium?

Of course not! In India bureaucrats don't waste public money, they don't get land allocated in tony areas of Mumbai in the guise of building flats for Kargil war heroes and then proceed to grab most of the flats themselves. Of course not—only a cynic like me would think like that.