Priorities for BMC poll winners: Slums, roads, water

In a day, we will know which party or alliance will control the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the body responsible for the running of the city of Mumbai. Rs 21,096.56 crore is what the BMC budgeted to spend in 2011-2012, and, considering the problems citizens of the metro face in the context of the responsibilities of the BMC, one wonders where the money has gone.

Here’s a look at the top concerns of Mumbaikars that the BMC needs to alleviate:

Construction and illegal encroachments:

The mushrooming of illegal encroachments across the city needs to be a high focus for the winners of the high-stakes battle.

"The commissioner issued a circular to all ward offices that said that only notices would not suffice and action should be against the persons involved in the illegal construction activities. To keep the civic administration transparent, the commissioner instructed the ward officers to send reports of action taken to the commissioner’s office," DNA had reported less than one month ago.

The mushrooming of illegal encroachments across the city needs to be a high focus for the winners of the high-stakes battle. Reuters

The trouble is, the commissioner is correct. All that the BMC does is issue notices, no action is taken. There is no route one can take in Mumbai without witnessing illegal encroachments, and, despite complaints, the problem goes unchecked. For example, just turn in from the Mahim Causeway toward Bandra, and you see a huge slum which didn’t exist 10 years ago. If the slum began as a collection of a few shanties, today it's almost a 'suburb' on its own. The few shanties became a few hundred, the single storied slums became multi-storied and, today, encroaches onto the road in plain sight of the authorities.

The Bandra illustration is just that – an illustration, but the same is true across the city. It's the BMC’s responsibility to prevent illegal encroachments and construction – and they fail at the task, paving the way for ‘regularisation’ in the future, adding to the pressure on the infrastructure thanks to the non-planned growth.

Roads:

Each year, Mumbaikars dread the monsoon for a multitude of reasons, but the most significant is the impact the rains have on the roads – which is the responsibility of the BMC. "The Anti-Corruption Bureau has begun a preliminary investigation into road tenders given by the BMC to private contractors over the past 10 years, following an anonymous complaint. There has been an outcry from all quarters this monsoon over the poor condition of Mumbai's roads, which TOI has detailed in a series of reports,” says The Times of India.

Where is the need to repair and relay roads every year if the job is executed well in the first place? There is a need – and that is the need to make illegal profits for the contractor and for the administration. "The reason you build bad roads is that they get damaged and hence give you repeat business. That's such MYOPIC thinking! I mean if you build great roads and got a stamp of approval for the work you do, then you could be the next Hindustan Construction Company (the guys who built the Sea Link) and be listed in the stock markets and be building roads and bridges and dams and flyovers ALL OVER the country and even in different parts of the world! Your Company can be worth billions of dollars — and not what was left behind after everyone ate what was on your table,” argue The Rodinhoods.

Illegal construction and poor roads combine to make the task of the fire brigade that much more difficult. Read about how narrow roads and encroachments impeded the fire brigade in fighting the blaze at Garib Nagar. "The rapid growth of unauthorised structures in the city's slum and chawl pockets regularly hampers our fire-fighting abilities," said senior officials. Similar conditions during a fire at Behrampada, Bandra (East) in 2009 had prevented fighters from saving hundreds of structures, including houses and workshops. "Six people had died in the blaze,” the report says.

And finally, in this list of priorities for the BMC, we come to water:

“Rs. 21 crore for completing 3000 mm. dia. water main, along Eastern Express Highway from Mulund to Amar Mahal Chembur, by May 2011 that will improve water supply to M/East and M/West , F/South, F/North, B & E wards. Rs. 887.87 crore for IV Mumbai Middle Vaitarna Project (all six components) to complete all components by May 2012 that will augment Mumbai’s water supply by 455 Mld after the Dam is filled in July 2012,” is what is envisaged in the last budget proposals.

“Mumbaikars, though, can't ignore the fact that the BMC has a long way to go to solving the city's water problems. Every year, crores are spent on projects related to the distribution of water and cleanliness. However, erratic water supply and contaminated water continue to dog Mumbaikars,” says The Times of India.

There are many areas that the BMC is responsible for, including water, roads, drainage, garbage and health, but the three areas outlined are responsible for the major, visible unhappiness of the citizens of the city. If the incumbent Shiv Sena-BJP- RPI alliance is voted out today, it will be because the administration has failed miserably in these areas. Whoever wins the election will be voted out as well if they fail – that’s the new impatience of urban dwellers.