Milind Deora column: Only a Mayor directly elected by the people of Mumbai can end the civic mess we are in
Mumbai is perennially plagued by host of civic hazards. Inefficient garbage disposal systems, water contamination, and ailing public health infrastructure are only some of the reminders of civic and political apathy in the city.
Mumbai is perennially plagued by host of civic hazards. Inefficient garbage disposal systems, water contamination, and ailing public health infrastructure are only some of the reminders of civic and political apathy in the city. Mumbai is, quite literally, crumbling under this apathy and lack of accountability – exemplified by the collapsed building at Ghatkopar where the current death toll stands at 17.
Monsoon after monsoon, potholes continue to cause serious injuries and claim lives, the latest victim being a 35-year old woman biker on the Dahanu-Jawhar road. Another example of a completely avertible accident is the death of a woman crushed by a coconut tree in Chembur last week – just the latest in a series of such incidents that have claimed nine lives since 2015 in Mumbai.
The larger debate that we must invoke here is that of governance and devolution, and how we restructure our oversight mechanisms. Essential public services – for instance, housing, law and order and transport – are the responsibility of diverse ministries in the Maharashtra and Union governments. The implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies in Mumbai are therefore undertaken by multiple agencies and governments, with presumably little nuanced coordination amongst them.
This disorganised concoction produces a consequence extremely undesirable for a democracy – the people of Mumbai don’t know who to hold accountable. I have consistently argued for the direct election of Mumbai's mayor by the people of the city. By encouraging this devolution of power, electing an individual who is politically and culturally invested in the city, and equipping them with the political mandate and executive authority to drive change in the city, we can ensure that the elected official is directly accountable to the urban electorate. We must build a city with a vision for its people.
In addition to being a structural issue, it is also one of political apathy. The parties in power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) over the last two decades have done little to find sustainable solutions to the plethora of issues plaguing the city. Considering that BMC is one of the richest municipal corporations in Asia, there is clearly a mismanagement of resources. Case in point: the conspicuous lack of potholes in "wealthier" parts of the city, or those that house headquarters of government agencies, and their equally glaring presence as you head towards the inner city. Evidently, it is not a technology or capability issue – we have the resources needed to fix the pothole menace across the city, but what we also have in abundance are corruption and impropriety.
As a concluding remark, I’d like to add that voters too have a responsibility. We must be conscientious in casting our vote. We must break with the trend of voting along religious and linguistic lines, and our sole considerations must be civic development and the merit of the candidate in that context.
The author is a former member of parliament, and has served as minister for communication and IT, and shipping and ports.
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