Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has now spoken of making the larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) an ‘Economic Capital Region” without indicating fully what he meant by it. It would have been better if he had, because the old aspiration of Mumbai — a part of the MMR — to be a Hong Kong, a Singapore, a Shanghai, or even a financial centre has not been realised.
However, it appears what he meant was a region well-connected with jobs for the population, because there was a mention of a “comprehensive mobility plan, which we will update for seamless connectivity throughout the region”. This, of course, the first time anyone is hearing about it. Then, there is this yet-to-be-listed “conglomeration of 22 smart cities around the new airport” near Panvel.
Of course, as gleanings, they sound good.
The best thing — however devoid of fine details it was — is that a chief minister was speaking of an entire region, which according to the Census 2011, qualifies to be a Mega City. It is a triangle with the three points being Alibaug, Virar, and Cuffe Parade. Minus the Mumbai that extends up to Dahisar, Mulund, and Mankhurd, the MMR is nine times the size of Mumbai and hosts a population equal to half of Mumbai’s municipal limits.
That is, as per the Census 2011, it works out to be a total of 1.8 crore, and by now, perhaps much closer to 2 crore — a size of humungous proportions. However, despite the thinner spread outside Mumbai city, it is home to as many as eight cities run by municipal corporations and nine municipal councils plus around several villages. Interestingly, only six percent of it is rural. That is, it is vastly urbanised, as commonly understood.
Whatever the grand plan Fadnavis has in mind, it is time the MMR received some attention, including from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and even the Maharashtra Housing Development Authority (Mhada). Between them, the focus has been more on Mumbai, less on the outlying areas, though they have been crying out for attention for a long time. And although slowly executed, what is done in Mumbai is visible.
In the rest of the vaster area, changes are awaited.
The effort all along has been to provide a transport link between Mumbai, especially its southern part, and rest of the region, mainly along an axis provide by the Western, Central, and Harbour commuter train services. As the suburbs grow, and the demand for jobs remains essentially in Mumbai, the trains remain crowded and the Bombay High Court on Monday said in an obiter that people depended on their fate to return home — so common are the accidents involving local trains.
Locations that provide livelihoods and places where the livelihood seekers reside are getting farther and farther because the larger MMR has not seen the kind of job generation that could lock the populations down to their own cities and towns. And the travel along the three axes and between them is tortuous, the railways as yet unable to meet the demand. East-west connectivity is improving in Mumbai, but it is nowhere in the planners’ sights yet in the MMR.
Job-creation and providing transport is a primary requirement to optimise the use of manpower across the region. Neither have been conceptualised yet in any meaningful manner for the region to look forward to. Improving the existing transport system — which are standalone systems in various parts of the MMR — hasn’t been a priority. It perhaps is a weak idea at the back of the government’s mind and remains there.
Who has heard of any tangible moves by an authority — the Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority — that talks of intra-MMR transport minus Mumbai?
It was set up in 2008, a council was appointed in 2010, and the announcements have been about projects within Mumbai, which is welcome of course. Its website is instructive in that it lists only one standalone non-Mumbai project, a metro for Kasarvadavali-Thane travel. Even that has been foggy, and needless flyovers in the same city have been planned.
Transport is the key to industrial development in the MMR and transport is the weakest part of the existing narrative. Some cities like Thane, Kalyan, Vasai-Virar, and Navi Mumbai civic corporations operate buses meant to serve their own populations but poor management of these systems hobbles the intra-city movement. Curiously, they focus on links to Mumbai mainly because the BEST of the Mumbai civic body runs away with their potential revenue on the inter-city routes.
And yes, on such a weak infrastructure in a critical sector, one now awaits the chief minister's roll-out of his master plan, such as it is to develop the Mumbai Economic Region. It would be equally interesting to see how soon the various components are spelt out, and executed of course, because the speed is the key here.
Otherwise, it will be one more dream sought to be sold to the long-suffering residents of the region.