If only a city were all about malls and towers!
Unfortunately, the builder-developer community, firmly entrenched in Thane City, makes you believe that it is so. It has been coming out with glossy real estate pullouts, promising the garnish of clubs and swimming pools within the enclaves of towers, and of late, even international schools. The pullouts are enticing enough. Well, the flats have to be sold and will be sold.
Starting this Friday, the city will witness a week-long exhibition of properties, featuring over 40 developers, 300 projects and representatives of over ten banks which would approve loans to buy the properties. There are some special offers too, billboards put up by the Thane unit of Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry say.
To those wanting to escape a tenancy and frequent shifts at the end of the lease or escape Mumbai to anchor their lives in a 600 sq ft apartment, switch from rents to EMIs, there are the usual sales pitches. These include the ‘lifestyle’ overtures to the potential buyers. However, what the pullouts and promises don’t speak of is the hardship of life Thane has on offer. None of these glossies have quotes from the existing residents who once in, have to grin and bear it.
If life were confined to easier parking at the malls, superstores and good shopping experience, then, yes, Thane City would be that dream destination. But life, especially for the middle-classes’, has a lot more going into it.
Let us take them one by one.
One, not all drive down to Mumbai, since Thane, though an industrial hub, is almost entirely a dormitory city. People commute by trains to work which, of course, are over-crowded to ‘crush capacity’ levels, a term used by the Indian Railway to describe the human sardines on its commuter trains. To get to the station to catch those trains is the bigger problem.
The city has no local transport worth the name, except what the rude autorickshaws offer. The civic body does run a Thane Municipal Transport (TMT) service. However, though they bought nearly two hundred buses three years ago, only about half of the nearly 400-strong fleet is operational. The rest is stabled since the buses were bought without maintenance clauses.
The buses don’t even run to a time-table. They do not operate across the city but only from some select points which are woefully inadequate for a city which is the fastest growing in India, population-wise. The new housing developments are unserviced; the newer areas the developers want to sell are not on the TMT’s radar at all.
When these townships, tiny and large, run their own bus services to drop and pick up the residents at the station, they are not allowed access to the station where a poorly designed Station Area Transport Improvement Scheme (SATIS) – the first and only in Mumbai’s metropolitan region – has not enough buses to use it.
Private buses from Thane West have to take a roundabout route to Thane East and park a long way from the station’s entry-exit. It takes longer to get there, and longer is the walk from the disorganised, unsafe bus stop to the station. Periodically, the RTO takes to inspection and on minor faults, suspends the use of these buses.
Two, it is a city unplanned in the sense the plans have never been implemented to make the new areas habitable. Development Plan roads (DP roads, in municipal jargon) have not been built forcing the highways to become arterial roads. The civic body wants the chicken to come first - housing; the eggs don’t matter. Resident’s discomfort be damned.
Three, it does not even have an official dumping ground to deal with the solid waste generated by the city. The garbage trucks flit hither and yon trying to hide the day’s collection, which is perhaps less than half the daily estimated 700-750 tonnes and growing. Garbage thrown and uncollected right in front of a bus stop is not an uncommon sight.
Four, its sidewalks are a horror; road edges, known as berms, are no better. Open manholes are an invitation to disaster but if there have been any, no one has reported it. Pedestrians have no place in the city’s management. Everything is designed for the motorists; Ghodbunder Road, where traffic snarls are planned to be eliminated by flyovers does not have a single foot over-bridge.
Five, the service roads are used for parking, eliminating the hope of its use as planned: intra-city movement. These, built as an afterthought, have no footpaths. And it is a haven for road side car
showrooms, literally on the road, and mechanics.
Six, so thoughtless is the management of construction sites that at the point where the Eastern Express Highway joins Ghodbunder Road, traffic is segregated by a tin sheet, thin and perpendicular to the road, almost invisible. It is a mystery no one has driven straight into it; it has no caution sign or light. At points where these dangers lurk, traffic is managed by untrained security guards of the construction companies.
Seven, despite a rule that all builders should use sprinklers to keep dust raised by construction activities down, it is observed only in its breach. Thane is amid a construction boom and residents who have another building coming up in their neighbourhood suffer. The civic body does not care and the builders give a tinker’s curse.
Eight, it has a political culture where the politicians are inimical to the city’s needs. Their personal gains overwhelm the common weal. They pack the Thane Municipal Corporation and do not allowed the civic body to function. But suffice it to say, despite the compact size of only about 144 sq km, the city whose civic body graduated to a corporation from a council only 30 years ago, is thus almost dysfunctional.
The builder-developers tell you this is the city of the future, evolving. It is, but evolving wrongly.
Chew on this post-script: even when Thane city was an industrial hub, the factories occupied, as on Dhokali-Balkum segment, only part of thickly wooded patches. The colonisation by the construction industry is depleting the tree cover and from anecdotal accounts, it does not matter as long as profits come by.
One industrial house cut down 586 trees over one weekend in September 2011 and the civic body’s Tree Authority came into the picture only post-facto. This kind of stuff is what the dream-sellers will not tell you about. But since buyers have no option except to look for a shelter of their own, rest is to be ignored.
To deal with all these, Thane could do with a newspaper of its own but Mumbai-based papers have a few odd-items. A Thane resident knows more about Mumbai than he does about Thane. With no idea of what makes it tick or not tick, a personal stake in it is hard to come by. Thus, no one even takes its ownership. Only the politicians, in their perverse ways, have.