THE Democratic Front government probably thought it was being smart when it opened the much-delayed Bandra-Worli sea link in July, a couple of months before the announcement of the Assembly elections. But Mumbais residents quickly saw through the politics in it. Most of those who spoke to Frontline said Mumbai needed so much more, and so little was being done.
Thanks to the delimitation of constituencies, the number of urban seats in Maharashtra has gone up to 130 from 100 in 2004. Mumbai itself will send 36 members to the 288-member Assembly. Neighbouring Thane has 24 constituencies. Problems of Mumbai and Thane may prove decisive in determining who reaches the halfway mark of 144.
Since the sea link has made commuting easy for Mumbaikars, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine have promised to implement the plan to link Bandra and Nariman Point and extend the sea link northwards to Versova.
Another move seen as made to please the voter is the installation of a 309-foot Shivaji statue in the sea off Mumbai. The money needed, Rs.350 crore, will be allocated from state funds, with the bulk of it (Rs.300 crore) being budgeted for in the Eleventh Five Year Plan.
One more pre-election decision of the Cabinet was the regularisation of illegal encroachments that came up until 2000. Successive governments have used regularisation of slums as an election issue. The previous cut-off dates were 1985 and then 1995. After the 1995 extension, the Bombay High Court ruled that further extensions could not be given. The State government challenged this in the Supreme Court. Hence, the Government Resolution for the extension up to 2000 can be issued only after the apex courts decision. The announcement on regularisation is a clear move to garner the votes of Mumbais slum-dwellers.
Of the citys official population of 13 million, about 75 lakh people live in slum pockets. The Democratic Front government could probably win seven seats in Mumbai on account of the Cabinet decision. Slum regularisation essentially means that low-cost houses can be built on the slum land to accommodate its inhabitants. For Mumbais builders this is a golden opportunity.
Interestingly, on the day the Cabinet brought forward the regularisation date, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan felicitated one of the citys biggest and most prolific builders, G.L. Raheja, with a Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industries. He referred to the builder as the mahaguru of the construction sector.
Under the Slum Rehabilitation Authoritys scheme, a builder developing slum land can use a part of it for his own projects after rehabilitating the slum-dwellers. There are allegations that builders have rehabilitated slum-dwellers in far-flung suburbs and used the slum land to build swanky high-rises.
Frontline asked Mumbaikars of various income brackets what they thought were the pressing needs of the city. The most common demands made across income groups was housing and mass transportation, including more local trains.
In the lower-income group, basic utilities such as water and electricity are a loud demand; housing is a desperate need, especially since the number of migrants from rural areas is increasing.
We get water just twice a day. It comes for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. We queue up at the water tap an hour before the time water is released. I cannot go to a full-time job because I have to collect water for the family. This prevents me from earning a proper income, says Anita Kurdkar, a part-time domestic help, who lives at Budhwar Park, Koliwada, in South Mumbai.
The middle-income group wants better infrastructure, such as roads, sanitation in residential areas, security (in the context of the 26/11 terror attacks), employment and control of property prices. Following the floods in July 2005, the call for better drainage and a check on massive concretisation has been made time and again.
They also speak of the rising prices of essentials and the high cost of living. Tur dal is now close to Rs.100 a kg. It is one of the main dals in our cuisine. How does one afford such prices if you have to feed at least six people in a family where only two work? asks Shailesh Mehta, a public sector employee living in Goregaon.
Even among the wealthy, price rise is an issue. The demands from this group are fewer but the complaints are many. Among these are traffic congestion, poor security, and the delay in the overhaul of the rent control law.
In the past five years the government has made some stabs at tackling a few issues. For instance, under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) and the Extended Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP), it approved as many as 16 flyovers, a monorail project and a 146-km-long metro rail project. In 2006, Rs.300 crore was sanctioned for the Mithi River Development Project (following the floods). Another Rs.600 crore has been put towards a station area traffic improvement scheme with skywalks and shopping plazas. The skywalks have come up, but not many are impressed. Who is going to walk two kilometres from their office to the station on the skywalks. It is unbearable in the heat and rain, says Shailesh Mehta.
With political parties working hard on Mumbai voters, many promises are being made. The Sena-BJP says it will build an eight-lane expressway from Mumbai to Nashik and link all the other main cities in the State. For the Congress-NCP alliance, too, infrastructure is a key area.Anupama Katakam and Lyla Bavadam