Governance plunges new depths in Mumbai, Maharashtra

Pointers are plenty – from the Kharghar tragedy to the engineered chaos in metropolis, from data to travails of daily life

Vidyadhar Date | April 27, 2023


#Mumbai   #Maharashtra   #Governance   #Bureaucracy   #Administration  
Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha
Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha

There has been a steady decline in governance in Maharashtra – sad for a state once known for its good administration. Political instability is only one of the factors. Nothing illustrates the decline more sharply than the death of 14 people and hundreds falling ill due to heat stroke at a rally organised by the state government in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, on April 16.

Lakhs of people were made to sit for hours from the morning to the afternoon in the hot sun in heat wave conditions without any pandal, any shade, even the water in tankers had become so hot, it could provide little relief even if some people could access it.

The function was held to confer the Maharashtra Bhooshan award on Appasaheb Dharmadhikari, a religious preacher, whose work is confined to two districts neighbouring Mumbai and he remains little known elsewhere. But he has a massive following in the limited area and is known for his penchant for organising rallies of lakhs of people as part of his show of strength.

The award is normally given in a hall but this one was organised as a mega event apparently to derive political mileage for a government in a precariously unstable state. Nearly Rs 13 crore from the state exchequer was said to have been spent on the function. The question is where did all this money go if gathering of lakhs of people was not provided in a shade the head and people had to walk more than a mile  from and to the venue.

It appears that a pandal was not built because it would have obstructed the view of drone aerial photograph images from above. Instead of spiritual solace all that the devotees got was torture. Most were sitting on the ground in the mid day heat so they were roasted from below and top.

It is amazing that so many people should have died in a government-organised event and in a major metropolis. One can imagine what must be happening in rural areas where arrangements are poorer and it is much easier to suppress facts. Even in the case of the heat deaths, the health department of the state government is not giving full information.

In 2005 a record 430 people died in floods in Mumbai, a very large number indeed for the most modern metropolis but at that time at least there was some excuse that it was an unanticipated natural calamity due to unprecedented rains. However, with better weather forecast, the damage could have been reduced.

One reason for the fall in governance standards is the prospect of bureaucrats getting extensions and cushy jobs after retirement. So there is, some would say, a conspiracy of silence. Only a few retired bureaucrats use their time well. Mahesh Zagade, a retired municipal commissioner of Pune, wrote an article on the Kharghar disaster in the largely circulated and prominent Marathi daily ‘Loksatta’, criticising the bureaucracy which usually gets away while the politicians are criticised and rightly so.

D.M. Sukhthankar, a former chief secretary of the Maharashtra government, and Julio Ribeiro, former Mumbai police commissioner, in their nineties, regularly speak out against wrongdoings of the government. Even more outspoken was J.B. D’souza, former chief secretary, who frequently filed public interest litigations.

Latest available figures from the Antyodaya mission of the central government for the performance of all the states in India also show that Maharashtra is falling behind in development – even behind Uttar Pradesh in some respects.

This was clear in a presentation made by Neeraj Hatekar, a well regarded economist of Azim Preji University and former director of the department of economics of Mumbai University, in the Shankar Brahme Social Science Library in Pune on April 22. I was present at event, which was also attended by a number of researches and activists.

Data is now available for all the gram panchayats in the country and it shows that nearly 53 percent out of 47,000 villages in Maharashtra now fall in the deprived category where basic amenities are not available. These include toilets, schools, primary health centres, irrigation, road, electric supply.
 
Hatekar, unlike most other academics, works among the poor, adivasis in remote areas and has also spent a couple of years working for the government. His experience is that bureaucrats and ministers are not on the same page, there is little commitment to the poor.

In the tribal Gadchiroli district he suggested that mahua flowers are collected by contractors at low rates and sold at high rates in Chhattisgarh. He suggested that the state government pay them higher price within the state so that the adivasis, not the contractors, will get profit from liquor made from the flowers. It was turned down on the ground that the government will lose the revenue from country liquor. Much of the state revenue comes from liquor so Gandhian doctor Abhay Bang calls Maharashtra “Madya Rashtra” (‘Madya’ in Sanskrit means liquor).

Basic amenities are not available even in prime areas in Mumbai. The fancy Bandra Kurla complex corporate/business district will now be connected by a high-speed train to Ahmedabad but there is no proper connectivity to the Bandra suburban railway station, the main focal point for this area. The scene outside the Bandra east side of the station, a couple of kilometres from BKC, resembles a chaotic village in a backward state. Thousands of people walk daily through squalor as most buses do not reach the station and are terminated half a km away. A dirty nallah with black water flows just outside the station making it a very depressing sight. Auto-rickshaw drivers, scores of them, shout for customers “Diamond Market, Diamond market”, which alone employes tens of thousands of people.

On the Western side of Bandra station the authorities have inflicted a daily torture on bus users and pedestrians through a scheme that promised to improve the station area. Bad engineering has resulted in the creation of barriers, noise, congestion, honking, pollution and utter confusion. The least that can be done now is to dismantle the labyrinthine barriers and provide open pace as before when traffic movement was easy. Architects and planners are horrified by the engineered chaos but they see, go away and forget; they do not use this area and are not aware of the suffering common people are subjected to.

This is a specimen. Nothing works. Municipal gardens are vandalised through bad design by architects from reputed institutions who had no business to be hired in the first place, a good  mali, gardener, would have done the job far better. Governance has touched new depths in the metropolis.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist based in Mumbai with over thirty years of experience.

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