BMC Election 2017: Mandate a chance for Shiv Sena, BJP to solve civic issues, improve life of Mumbaikars
The Shiv Sena and BJP's performance in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election may not be sufficient for either party to govern the civic body individually but both must come together to solve the civic issues in the city
The Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) performance in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election is not sufficient for either party to govern the civic body individually, but both seem to have managed to avoid the anti-incumbency factor with their decision to contest the election solo. Both Shiv Sena and BJP played on the fact that the chance of any further alliance with each other ended with the 2014 General Election to the Lok Sabha and the Maharashtra Assembly, thereby causing their supporters to come out and vote in large numbers.
However, as the situation stands now, both parties will have to come together again, if either wants a chance to govern the municipal body for the next five years. And while that's not the ideal situation that either would have hoped for, both must work together especially since there is a lot of work that needs to be done to get the city moving into a well-oiled machine that can keep up with its citizenry. The only other option for either party is to form an alliance with Congress, but given their history, it is unlikely. So, if BJP and Shiv Sena do come together, the challenges in front of the new municipal corporation are plenty.
The first step is to urgently reforming the BMC's public school system. Mumbaikars should be able to rely on the public schools to provide comprehensive education to their children. Efforts on improving healthcare, sanitation and cleanliness should also begin with upgrading the public schools and playgrounds. For the richest municipal corporation in India, increased budgetary allocations for schools and school infrastructure is a must. The BMC has a budget that is bigger than the combined budget of Goa and Tripura. For a city with a municipal budget that large, its schools can and should be on par with schools in developed countries. The corporation should have a standing sub-committee on public education whose job should be to prepare a master plan on how this has to be fixed.
The second task is to urgently upgrade the level of sanitation and healthcare. While the BMC runs many speciality hospitals and nursing homes, very little is actually done with regards to preventive public health — most citizens will know this because of the annual dengue scare that we are all used to. Preventive public health is as important as having an infrastructure that could support it. It is important that this issue is addressed at the earliest. Open drains need to be secured to prevent infection. Streets need to be kept clean. Waste segregation needs to be enforced and there needs to be a strict implementation of anti-littering laws across the city. Likewise, construction of public toilets and public baths for the use of the city's homeless and street dwelling population is also essential to ensure good standards of health and hygiene.
The third task for the new civic body will be to work in close coordination with the state government. The BMC on its own doesn't have that much power. So for it to be effective, it will have to work in close coordination with the Mantralaya in the city. This will be critical to fixing the city's infrastructure. The planning of new roads and expressways across the city must also take into account the demands of the commuters. The BMC (via the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking) and the state government could work together and complete the bus rapid transport system (BRTS) lanes on the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road (GMLR) and the Western Express and Eastern Express Highways to ease the pressure off the rail system. Other infrastructure projects such as upgrading hospitals, e-services centres, night shelters for Mumbai's homeless population, homes for the socially vulnerable also need to be taken up on a priority. For a city with so much money, Mumbai sure doesn't use it to provide a high-quality life to its citizens.
Slum improvement is another area where the BMC needs to focus on. The BMC currently has many slum dwellers who squat on BMC land and are protected under the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act of 1971 and the Maharashtra Rent Control Act of 1999. The BMC also has many chawls (formerly operated by the erstwhile Bombay Improvement Trust) across the city that badly need redevelopment. These redevelopment needs to be actioned on a priority and can only be done with close coordination with the state government via the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) and the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). The redevelopment has been happening at a snail's pace. This fresh mandate should renew this cause with vigour. The redevelopment though should focus on creating more public housing which the city badly needs rather than expensive luxury flats which usually come in a Public Private Partnership model.
Finally, we come to the question of the BMC's budget. If you look at last year's revenue expenditure you'll find that 51.8 percent of the BMC's expenditure went under the head of "establishment expenses". So more than 50 percent of the India's richest municipal corporations' revenue budget was used to pay the salaries and pensions of its staff. Which means the new administration at the BMC will really need to start thinking about the sheer number of people employed in the BMC and may need to seriously consider staffing and budget cuts to free up the revenue budget. Establishing a sub-committee in the corproration with this purpose may be a step in the right direction. The subcommittee in it's mandate can also look at other wasteful expenditures incurred by the BMC. It may be the first of its kind effort in India, possibly an act of wishful thinking on the part of this author, but if 51.8 percent of the budget is going in paying staff and pensions, a sub-committee like this may be worth considering.
The above examples are just a part of an illustrative list of things the new BMC corporation can start with to get the ball rolling. The civic bodies (local government) can be highly effective in bringing change on the ground, which is why the Constitution (74th) Amendment Act, 1992, gave every metropolitan area the right form a local government. The three levels of government working together have the ability to create maximum impact. The local government is the first stop in a citizens quest to get their voice heard.
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