BMC Election 2017: Mumbai's civic body is doing a fine job, can't be blamed for the city's problems

For a city with the richest civic body in the country, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) sure doesn't have much power over the lives of average Mumbaikars. Which is why the fact that 55 percent of the city turning up to vote on Tuesday is a big deal, unlike argued in a previous piece. A few more reality checks are required:

The Metro rail does not come under the BMC, and is under the purview of the state government. Reuters

The Metro rail does not come under the BMC, and is under the purview of the state government. Reuters

a) A lot of Mumbai's pollution comes from the harbour located on the city's eastern coast. Operations at the harbour include things like refineries, container handling, and most importantly, coal handling. You'd think it is easy for the city's residents to approach the mayor about this? Except no, it is not easy. The harbour area falls within the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Port Trust, so if you are a resident coughing from the coal dust, you have to make your appeal to the Ministry of Shipping in Delhi!

Coal operations stopped in 2015, but tons of coal dust still stand near the sea. As of January 2016, the clean-up operations were still going on.

b) Now coming to our railways. It would be in everyone's interest if the BMC was permitted to even have a say in how the local trains in the city are operated. But the management of Mumbai's local train services are the lookout of the six Lok Sabha MPs Mumbai sends to Parliament. Local train services are managed by the Indian Railways through the Central and Western Railways. The Budget is determined in Delhi, as also are decisions regarding how the railways will be run. When the BMC elections take place, voters here have no control over this, the most vital aspect of life in Mumbai.

Mumbai's train services, when they do turn a profit, are used to subsidise rail services in the rest of the country. Despite many proposals to make local services run independently, this has never materialised, as tracks and stations that are used are common to the Indian Railway Network.

The Metro and Monorail are again not projects that the BMC has much control over, as they were spearheaded by the state government via another agency altogether, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority. So once more, when it comes to local transport, it's our 35 Vidhan Sabha seats versus the rest of the state's 288. The BMC once again has no control over most of what happens to these prime projects.

c) Now, the roads of Mumbai, where things really get mind boggling. This is where you have a multi-nodal agency nightmare. In Mumbai, you have more than one type of road. You have roads that the BMC manages; these are the ordinary run-of-the-mill roads. Then, you have roads/flyovers, that are currently under the management of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation; these roads come as part of the State Highway Network. The management of these roads is in turn outsourced to private contractors who manage them on a contract basis for the MSRDC. The highways on the west and the east, along with the expressways connecting into the National Highway Network, make it a third agency that is responsible for the city's roads — the National Highways Authority of India. This is not to mention roads in the Naval Cantonment areas of Colaba and the Airport areas around Juhu, Sahar and Santa Cruz.

With so much regulatory overlap, fixing a pothole is not the major part of the problem, identifying whose job it is to fix it is the main worry. Is it any wonder that the average Mumbaikar has lost faith in the BMC? Can you really blame the civic body for this mess?

So now the bigger question, what does the BMC actually do?

The BMC runs a variety of things that a municipality is expected to, and it does so better than most other municipalities in India. But it does need some improvement in certain areas. Here's an illustrative list of what the BMC actually does:

Parks: This author has lived in many metros in India, and Mumbai's public parks are a dream compared to the others. Most of them offer free admission and they provide a clean and safe space for the public to walk and read at leisure. They are also present in most localities throughout the city and suburbs. The BMC also gives you open playgrounds, which are often used by the BMC-run schools.

It is important to note here that the Sanjay Gandhi National Park is not one such park; it's a designated national park, and comes within the ambit of the Ministry of Forests.

So the one thing Mumbaikars do hold the BMC to account for is the state of public parks and spaces. And over the last few years, the city has grown cleaner. Albeit marginally.

Schools: The BMC is also responsible for running municipal educational institutions in the city. Though in the past few years enrolment numbers have dropped. But it's also interesting to note that while many parents have shifted from BMC schools to private institutes, there was also a 53 percent rise in enrolment at English-medium schools, from 21,889 students in 2007-2008 to 33,559 in 2012-13, showing that the BMC's English-medium schools were still doing well.

So, when Mumbaikars go out to vote in the BMC elections, they know that municipal education is one thing they are voting for.

Hospitals: One of the key features of the BMC is is that it operates civic hospitals and clinics in Mumbai. It also has many nursing homes and wards in major hospitals, and gives recognition/support to private charitable clinics, creating a healthcare ecosystem in the city. The public healthcare ecosystem it creates is able to attract the best students from across the state to study in colleges attached to these institutions, even shunning the state-run colleges.

But BMC hospitals do suffer from problems, just like other public health facilities in India. Most citizens who live in the city would have at sometime used health services offered by the BMC, not just because they are cheap, but because of the quality of doctors that the BMC hospitals have. Some of Mumbai's best doctors can be found in hospitals with BMC wards. This is one of the key areas where the BMC works in.

BMC and BEST: One of the major functions of the BMC is operating the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST), which runs bus services across the city and is responsible for maintaining the supply of electricity to certain parts of the city. This is a wholly owned undertaking of the BMC and is autonomous. The BMC election would affect bus services and electricity supply as well. Mumbai is already famous for having no power cuts. The only question remaining is how efficient the bus services can be.

So while the world may crib about how Mumbaikars don't turn up to vote, it needs to be noted that for a city so big, they don't have that much power over their daily lives. Most of their pollution problems come under the responsibility of the Ministry of Shipping. The green areas are dealt with by the Forest Department. Their transport problems are a multi-nodal ministerial nightmare.

The few things the BMC actually does, it does a decent job, and is also taking efforts to ensure Mumbai is worth living in. We need to amend the Constitution to give the BMC certain additional powers when it comes to the management of the city, given the size of the population and the special status it enjoys within Maharashtra. This will finally give its residents some semblance of control.

For live updates on BMC results, click here.

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2017 09:01:37 IST

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