A bitter truth behind the white sheets

A bitter truth behind the white sheets

The more you hide, the more you will show. This is the story behind the curtains that were drawn along the roads leading to the G20 summit venues in the city. The white sheet spread over several kilometers was intended to cover the real face of Mumbai – as we know it. The city administration did not want the G20 delegates to see it. Rough roads were rectified, potholes were filled, side walls were painted slate wherever possible. Dwarf, dirty and dilapidated there was no standing as the grand, glass façades and fully air-conditioned towers displayed another face of Mumbai. It was as if the learned delegates visiting the city were not aware of its slums, urban poverty and substandard living conditions. Alas, the Sherpas of the town could not hide the feeling that the citizens had at the sight of the whitewashing done with their tax money.

Do cities like Mumbai need to be portrayed as they really are not? Why can’t we present them as they are? To cover up our failure to upgrade them and accommodate growing urbanization with good investment and vision? Incidentally, these days another Mumbai makeover plan started.

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I’m not sure which version of the Mumbai makeover this is, because whoever comes to power promises the city a ‘heaven on earth’. The concept changes as captains come and go, and the city remains hellish. Loud promises of rain as soon as the sound of the election approaches. In his sixth month, the new CM Eknath Shinde has kept up political tradition, launching the next phase of the Mumbai makeover under a tagline: CM Eknath Shinde’s initiative. He has started with projects that are more for optics ahead of the BMC elections. Public benefit projects are still lagging behind while others have not yet been envisaged or are delayed in implementation. The suburban railway network is under stress. A roadblock causes inconvenience to rail passengers and crowded stations. The script of Mumbai has not changed at all. City bus transportation service was not the best long ago.

Dharavi is likely to change with the selection of bidders. The bid has gone into litigation and political charges. Prompted by an amended housing law, dilapidated and dilapidated buildings should be expeditiously reconstructed. The metro network has been put on the fast track, but the issues related to the car depot are still not resolved. The underground corridor is struggling to meet the new deadline. Roads remain pathetic throughout the year, unless there is an event like G20.

The problems are painful and debates abound, but political parties do not discuss them much. Their agenda is completely different – often party-specific and not for the public good. Be it Marathi, Gujarati, North Indian or South Indian, people from regional and religious circles alike suffer due to political agenda that bypasses real civic problems. Mumbai is exploding with its own set of issues that are somewhat different from the rest of the state, but share some commonalities with others in Maharashtra and the country. Other cities and towns in Maharashtra will find themselves in the same pit the state capital has been placed in over the years. Thane campus and MMR city are moving in the same direction. Pune and Nagpur are following suit. The time has come for the government and the opposition to act quickly before it is too late to clean up the mess.

But be sure that most of the issues discussed here will not figure prominently in the election campaign talk that is taking shape. The MVA is gearing up to take on the ruling BJP and the Balasahebchi Shiv Sena. The much-delayed civic body elections in Mumbai and several other municipal corporations, city councils and districts have been delayed due to court cases. While the court’s decision is awaited, the parties have rapidly come into election mode. The MVA Morcha in Mumbai has started the campaign of opposition. While assurances of unity have come from the erstwhile ruling parties, the BJP-Shinde Sena alliance sees a strong possibility of a fractured opposition unity and is expected to benefit from it.

Dharmendra Jore is Political Editor, Mid-Day. He tweeted @dharmendrajore
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