One possible reason common people’s basic problems remain unsolved is that our politicians and bureaucrats live in such absolute comfort, unmindful of people’s misery. Take the example of MMRDA, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.
It has a plush, shining modern office in the Bandra Kurla complex, the corporate district of Mumbai. Its top officials live just one building away on the same road, the other building belongs to Mumbai Metro corporation.
Next to the officials’s apparently luxurious quarters is a very big garden with a tennis court and other amenities. It is a public space but this is treated as a private property by the officialdom, they have a direct access from their building to the garden. The garden is hidden behind high walls, outsiders are not even allowed a peek inside.
There is a very big public garden right in front of the building along the Mithi river which is kept very clean here with dredging while the river smells elsewhere and remains very dirty.
Why do these officials require what is now their private garden ? It was open to the public but apparently only for name’s sake earlier, Covid has given a golden opportunity to many departments to deny public access to such properties.
One reason Mumbai’s transport problems are in such a mess is that MMRDA is obsessed with the car culture and has not paid enough attention to public transport. It is now presiding over the Metro railway construction which is in a total mess .
The car obsession can be seen clearly. It has built a huge 13 storey car parking tower next to the luxury Triden Hotel much of it unused.
And shockingly, parking for no fewer than five thousand cars has been built in the underground part of Jio Garden, a joint project of MMRDA and Reliance which is virtually controlled by the Ambani family and used for lavish weddings and parteis of the super rich.
There is enough space in Mumbai, the point is it is grabbed mainly by the rich in sweet collaboration with greedy corporates.
The JIO garden was inaugurated by Mrs Nita Ambani ironically in the presence of slum children assembled in a big stadium . Look at the hypocrisy, the children will never be able to enter the garden which is accessible only to the very rich. Yet, in a big public relations exercise to create a façade, it is made out as if it belongs to the whole of Mumbai, all people. She even chose to speak quite a lot in Marathi just to show that she was identifying with common people.
How totally callous MMRDA and the city administration have been towards public transport is clear from the fact that MMRDA cannot handle basic public transport right in its vicinity inflicting great inconvenience to bus users.
The Bandra suburban station is the main gateway to the Bandra Kurla complex, a creation of MMRDA, yet people cannot access the station by bus for more than a year because of some repair work being carried on the road and the dirty nallah. Buses are terminated half a km away near the highway. Commuters have to walk through a very shabby environment to and from the station. This is a smart, world class city for you where the people are treated with absolute contempt while every effort is made to give all sorts of facilities, grants, subsidies to corporates.
You have to visit BKC to understand the true character of Indian capitalism. The extreme opulence of the corporates. They have very well collaborated with bureaucracy in banking and other sectors. Bank officials live in luxurious houses in this posh area within walking distance from their head offices. No mobility problem for them while ordinary people travel in cushing conditions. . Every influential person, several intellectuals, academics are bought over, well looked after and dissent is substantially stifled.
Vast tracts of land are given for consumption of the rich as in the case of the very posh club of the Mumbai Cricket Association. In a very large section of the posh BKC area there is not a single eating place, stall except one run by a women’s Sankalpa mahila cooperative I noticed near the free car parking area.
What BKC really shows that the MMRDA which is the highest planning body in the metropolis is a very poor planner of an area in its own vicinity. It does have some plus points. It has a very good library and some good staff. But the overall picture is utterly disappointing.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking a democratic form of transport.