Ease of Living Index ranks Navi Mumbai, Greater Mumbai at the top but conclusions of survey are laughable

It is like the monsoon assessment. It rained as predicted, whatever good percentage it was. Yet, the crops failed. Because, it did not rain at the time it should have because the land was not prepared for sowing or for it to nurture. That is, within a broad measure, there are nuances, and if not reckoned with, the entire outcome changes. Statistically, the precipitation was good, but in terms of spread and time, it was way off. There have been this kind of ‘green droughts’.

The measure applied to judge Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, and Thane to rank them for 'ease of living' is something akin to it. And on all parameters, the conclusions are laughable. The activists and NGOs which have been fighting to make Mumbai liveable have been correct – not the index.

Take Mumbai for example. Among the top parameters, governance is one. Mumbai is nowhere in it among the first three. It is at the top with regard to compactness, not because of any other reason but due to the geographical constraints – sea on three sides and other cities to its north.

Navi Mumbai is a grand city, visually. Nicely built towers, on lands of the villages acquired to build what is the world’s largest planned city, are misleading. For every such node, there is a village of that name which was allowed to fester without planning and have become overcrowded.

 Ease of Living Index ranks Navi Mumbai, Greater Mumbai at the top but conclusions of survey are laughable

Representational image. Reuters

Ranking Thane city at the sixth place is droll humour to rank Thane even at the sixth place. It is an urban space which is splitting the dividing line being the Eastern Express Highway into two. The one to the east of it is crowded, being older part of the city, as is with any city which has matured over time. The newer part is where the real estate development is taking place on a dizzy pace.

Mumbai is a pathetic example of governance where politicians rule, bureaucracy is subjugated even if some exceptional officers at the top resist mischief, and contractors find favour. The citizen counts, if at all, incidentally so the mischief could be cause on the pretext of serving the residents.

The survey apparently took note of it and kept Mumbai low in the grading. One true measure of governance is the number of times and the frequency with which the Bombay High Court has had to intervene and order the city government to rectify matters. The court had to tell the railways that the gap between the train and the platforms had to be reduced to save lives.

Public space is where it ranks third, but where are the public spaces? An occasional garden does not meet the requirement of being the city’s lungs either. Civil society groups are fighting to retrieve whatever have been doled out to the politically influential under one pretext or the other. If the norm is that few open spaces still left, then the assessment has been off the mark. If the proportion of land left after exploiting the city’s available spaces constitutes that, then we need to redefine it. Compared to London’s about 50 sq metres, Delhi’s 14-odd sq mts, Mumbai’s is a pathetic two and less per capita.

Yes, ‘assured water supply’ is a good bench mark, but for those living in the better sections, or what is called ‘formal housing’, that is apartments. But nearly half the city population lives in slums where water is a dire need which is not fully met. Even on counts of sanitation, they score low. Does crawling at eight kilometre per hour on roads, which are badly kept to the extent they do not survive the first monsoon reflect ease of living? Does commuting like sardines in local trains make anyone’s life easier except that they pay less for the travel than car users spend on buying and running a car?

A third of Navi Mumbai’s population resided in slums way back in 2001. That compares better with Mumbai, of course, but Navi Mumbai is a new city, in the making. Because the nodes came up, slums were insufficient for the service providers to live in, the villages grew haphazardly, and every planner and every politician knows it.

There yet another pin to prick the bubble of being a top-class city. It may be cheaper than Mumbai, cheaper than suburban Mumbai in realty prices, but they still cost a lot. This, because, the only resource for building the city is monetising the land bank and spending on building and running it. These auctions have pushed the benchmark prices way up.

There is a vast swath of the area which is not yet appropriately municipalised to the extent it ought to have been. Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation is not the entire municipalised city. Recently Panvel came up to its south. Beyond that, as one travels towards Nhava-Sheva port, one sees what the place is – not a city.

Except for size, or compactness, Thane scores over the other two cities in the metropolitan region. And yet, it remains inadequately managed. Absence of reliable public transport has crowded the city in a manner that some road stretches are as bad as Mumbai for speed. And then there is the truck traffic connecting Gujarat to rest of India, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Port in the Navi Mumbai region.

Public transport is pathetic forcing increased dependence on cars and bikes. It is emerging as the station with the highest footfalls on the Central Railways suburban train system, but its municipal chief had confessed soon after the passenger dispersal system was built, that “it was faulty in design”. Try accessing the station during the peak house and you’d know.

If there is city which missed every opportunity to resolve problems arising from population growth – it was the fastest for any city between the 2001 and 2011 Census – and it continues to make plans when even the traffic under the flyovers are a huge mess. It being host to lakes, something developers pitch when selling housing property, means nothing.

It has all the maladies of Mumbai, and is unlikely to come out of its mismanagement for it has a city government which did not notice over 450 trees being felled overnight in what was once an industrial land. Of course, some efforts are on, but too little is coming the way of the residents too late and too slow. Once an industrial city, the land is being recycled for residential use.

Updated Date: Aug 14, 2018 17:47:30 IST