In Delhi authorities seem to have at least some understanding of the need for promoting public transport and to discourage private cars. This seems to be sorely lacking in Mumbai.
Air pollution is now so bad in Delhi that the chief of the Environment Pollution Control Authority, senior administrator, Bhure Lal, warned that from November 1 the authority may have to ban private cars in the capital. It is not easy to enforce such a measure given the clout of the car lobby and motorists.But there is at least a realization that car use needs to be curbed.
As coincidence would have it on November 1 the Mumbai administration, on the other hand, showed its servility to the car lobby with an advertisement in Mid-day newspaper for a contract for an underground car park at a cost of Rs. 87 crore at tax payers’ cost. Ironically, the municipality wants to build it below the historic Patwardhan park named after a renowned socialist of old days, Raosaheb Patwardhan.
The government and the civic body are doing this even while they are seriously depriving bus users of elementary facilities by shutting several bus routes, terminating some half way, denying financial support to the BEST bus undertaking. The worst is the robbing of land of bus depots and commercializing it when the need for a growing city is to acquire more land.
Delhi has done a lot to acquire more land for bus stations while Mumbai is hell bent in reducing it causing misery to bus users.
The underground car park is apparently meant to boost the business of most luxury goods shops on Linking Road which have become mere showrooms where customers are conspicuous by their absence.. These are a waste of precious urban space. The car park will also help the new Bal Gandharva auditorium built by developer Raheja which has 40 car parking spaces and apparently it wants more. This is an absolute white elephant created out of a nice, open air theatre which was here till the seventies. It was a citizens’ property, handed over on a platter to a big builder which serves little public interest. .
Besides, for the sake satisfying the ego of a few rich shoppers who want to buy from luxury shops and to promote car sales huge public funds are to be spent and also at a heavy social cost as the public space will be lost to the public for a long time during construction.
The civic authorities and politicians have shown a pathetic lack of understanding the basics of transport needs. Western countries have learnt their lesson and they are now providing less and less space for parking of cars. Our rulers constantly talk of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore unaware that parking is very costly in the last two cities, it costs much more than the cost of very luxurious cars.
And here in Mumbai our administrators want to squander public resources on private cars while denying basic needs of ordinary commuters, humiliating common people.
In a city desperately short of space, the administration first allowed a drive in theatre for motorists on 20 acres of prime land in Bandra east and then illegally granted permission for commercial development of the land. It is so serious that the issue is now to be investigated by the anti-corruption bureau.
A childish argument is made every time that since there is such a big increase in the number of cars, there should be more car parks and parking spaces in the city. These wiseacres never say that since there are more people in need of buses and so many pedestrians we should provide more buses and footpaths for them. On the contrary, these anti-people elements want to reduce facilities for common people. Besides, if parking is to be provided for every car, there will be no open space left in Mumbai for children to play, citizens to walk.
While the government is senselessly inflicting increasing motorization it has failed in its basic duty to create vehicle testing tracks. Having squandered all public space and given it to private developers, the government now wants to encroach on bus station premises and grab a big chunk of space there for these tracks. Despite repeated warnings from the high court the government has failed to act and it has cut a sorry figure. Now it wants to use the space of the Deonar BEST bus depot and of Nehru Nagar S.T. bus depot in Kurla for vehicle testing which shows an utterly bankrupt public policy mindset, preying on facilities essential for needs of public transport.
The government is literally playing havoc with people’s lives, robbing them of every conceivable part of land and water resources. An utterly irresponsible move to allot 17 acres of wetlands for a golf course and towers for the rich was fortunately turned down last week by the Bombay high court.
Are our administrators even aware that golf courses are an environmental disaster even though they look very green ?
The game of robbing the land of BEST buses for private benefit dates back to the eighties though it accelerated in the last few years.
Dr Y.T. Oke, a renowned campaigner against noise and pollution, had challenged the commercial development of the Andheri west bus station way back in 1982. He won in the high court but the Supreme reversed the high court judgement.
So a good portion of the bus station space is now lost to a commercial complex. One can see it as one steps out of Andheri west railway station with big boards of coaching classes.
The anti people policies are visible everywhere.. I was walking by the bungalow of the chief justice of Mumbai high court at Narayan Dabholkar road on Malabar hill recently.
On the other side of the road is the bungalow of the state transport minister Diwakar Raote and further beyond is the bungalow of the legislative council chairperson Ramraje Nimbalkar.
So here with have senior figures of the three pillars of the Indian State, the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. And yet, though the transport minister himself lives here, there is no footpath on this road which gives one an idea of the extreme contempt with which the whole system treats ordinary people.
If a pedestrian is killed on the road, it won’t be suprising if our heartless system treats the victim as the offender, never mind the absence of a footpath.
The traffic police in Mumbai have appealed to people to send suggestions to a committee appointed by the high court to find a solution to the choking of traffic in the city.
One sympathises with the traffic police.They themselves are victims of the government’s anti people policies. One of them lost his life recently when an ambulance carrying him could not reach a hospital in time due to traffic jams. They are also exposed to severe pollution and assault by criminal elements among motorists.
The first thing the police must do is to tell their bosses in the bureaucracy and political class that managing traffic does not merely mean serving the interests of motorists. The police must be allowed to remain impartial and serve the interests of pedestrians as well.
Now because of pressure from high ups the police actively discriminate against pedestrians. Our political class should really feel ashamed by what its policies are doing right outside Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar.
Here, for pedestrians wanting to cross from the Manohar Joshi-built Kohinoor Towers to Shiv Sena Bhavan the signal never turns green. So the pedestrians continuously face death and injury.
It is necessary to remind the rulers that it is their Constitutional obligation to protect the life of citizens. It is nothing short of a crime to expose innocent citizens to such hazards.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book which seeks priority for public transport and pedestrians