On Tuesday, Maharashtra’s wise men, a presumption because they occupy such high places, who together constitute the state cabinet, spent a while on an issue which bothers Mumbai’s citizens. Why is it that everytime Mumbai gets a good rainfall, the city becomes dysfunctional?
To say the least, that was unusual.
For one, railway tracks get flooded and trains either take a breather or just get cancelled holding up the millions who commute for hours to get to work and back. For another, roads get so battered that they take on the appearance of lunar craters and make a ride in a two-wheeler or four-wheeler a case of Chinese torture.
Money is poured into the city to clean the gutters and the rain water drains, they said, and yet the water does not flow out. Money is again poured to repair the roads and yet, the craters emerge after a single good rain. This disrupts the city’s life, they lamented. Some ministers were irritated and some others were worried.
Because they spoke about enormous money being spent, it can be surmised that they wondered where that money went. A very good thing too because, Mumbai comes to a halt despite money being allegedly being spent, or claimed to have been spent, but most certainly paid out to the contractors with nothing to show for it except a debit in the civic body’s, MMRDA’s and railways’ account books.
Frankly speaking, this issue raised by Mumbai’s guardian minister, Jayant Patil, who once summoned the civic chief and took him and his colleagues on a ride over the potholes to make a point, was valid but weren’t they staring at the obvious? Didn’t they know that as a rule, all the money earmarked for the city’s upkeep does not go for the work to be done but into someone’s pocket as illicit enrichment?
Being politicians, these wise men ought to know what route the money from the coffers flees and to which destination. Because, being politicians, they also ought to realise that the institutions—each and every one of them—have been so badly sabotaged by their class that this perverse practice of enrichment at the cost of the city is by now a norm. The politicians collude with the contractors and the officialdom takes away the crumbs and the city gets barely anything.
They needn’t go around like Diogenes of Sinope with a lantern in hand during the daylight hours to find out. It is all there, out in the open, the city’s state itself being the testimony to the fraud being played year upon year. These worthies, including the chief minister who normally opens new flyovers, do not seem to see that within the week their surfaces are worn out and the approaches crumbled.
Take the potholes. Hot-mix and cold-mix and god knows what has been experimented with but everything had the same outcome: more or renewed potholes in situ. The city fathers believe that if the potholes are filled in time for the idols of Ganesh are brought in and then after the usual celebrations of up to nine days, are taken out on potholes-free roads for immersion, their civic tasks are done with.
That is perhaps they fear more the gods and less the people who live in the city for whom having poor city services is by now a given. ‘It can’t be anything else’ is how the poor citizen, hapless as he is, consoles himself. They have elected them for the quid pro quos they need to redeem for help rendered to individuals and groups—in other words, sold their votes—so where does the scope for complaint lie?
Take the drains. They are choked with muck and garbage thrown by the citizenry and contracts are issued for clearing them. Till a day before the onset of rains, despite presumed inspections by the officials, more than half remains in the state they were in. The contractor-babu-politician nexus believes that come the rains, the left-behind garbage would be washed away. The money paid out is a bonus for work not done; everyone has a share of it in their pockets. This has worked to their advantage, unfailingly.
Take the sidewalks. They are in poor shape, narrower by the year, crowded not by the pedestrians but hawkers and raids are conducted and claims made, as on the D’Mello Road—the pavement dwellers who were cleared to enable access to the walls on which their shacks had leaned so that painters could dab their slogans and brush strokes—that they cannot beat the informal system of encroachment.
Of course, excuses can be offered and indeed are offered year upon year about how someone else was at fault—that road is not in civic jurisdiction but the MMRDA’s (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) or state PWD’s etc.—and with promises of doing better next year. Only thing that is bettered is the scam for higher returns, and the city be damned. The more they secure from the Centre, as for the BRIMSTOWAD (Brihanmumbai Storm Water Disposal System), the more likely the higher rake offs. The longer it takes than scheduled offers chances of cost escalation driven by inflation and greed.
These wise men who conferred in the cabinet room in Mantralaya did the right thing. At least they asked questions as to why the city, despite the railways, the state road development corporation (MSRDC), the MMRDA, the MCGM being mandated to improve and maintain it, have failed, or are continuing to fail to serve the city. They know the answers well enough without being told, so the best they could do is fix the problems by fixing the petty politicians who rule the roost in the city and offer their homages to the higher tiers, fix the contractors who get the jobs despite being blacklisted, and fix the bureaucrats.
But that is asking too much. Does not it amount to that class committing hara-kiri! But then the citizens have their time-honoured option: suck their thumbs.