“90% Mumbaikars are outsiders”

Sanjay Nirupam on his vision of Mumbai


Sweta Ranjan | October 25, 2011

Sanjay Nirupam, who represents the Mumbai North constituency in Lok Sabha, is in once again in a verbal duel with Uddhav Thackeray, on the controversial issue of ‘outsiders’ in Mumbai. Niruapam hails from Bihar’s Rohtas district and typifies both the promise and challenge of present-day Mumbai. In an exclusive conversation with Governance Now earlier, Nirupam shared his perspectives and vision for the city. Edited Excerpts:

You are both an outsider and insider in Mumbai. Are you made to feel like an outsider? 
Ninety percent of Mumbai’s population comprises outsiders. Except for the East Indian Christians and the Kolis, everybody else has come from outside, from the rest of Maharashtra, Gujarat, north India or south India. But Mumbai embraces anyone who comes here. It is only politics that makes north Indians, south Indians, marwaris, Gujaratis – many of who have been living here for generations – outsiders. But I have never felt like an outsider. Politically, yes, but socially never. Mumbai is like a big sea. It has a variety of languages and lifestyles that one can choose from. For 150 years, people have been coming to Mumbai, to live, to progress and those who come to stay in Mumbai never return.

Why has infrastructure collapsed in Mumbai?
I don’t think that is true. Of the 450 square km of Mumbai, 100 sq km is forest land, 100 sq km is with the central government where no developmental work can take place, 100 sq km comes under the coastal regulation zone area where again no developmental projects can happen. That leaves just 150 sq km which includes houses, shops, slums etc. The number of people is rising, which is why Mumbai has the highest density of population across the globe. This is why it appears from outside that infrastructure has collapsed. But actually that is not so. Mumbai may not have wide roads as in Delhi but still Mumbai does not have bad bumpy roads. The water drainage system built by the British is a very competent system. But it has a capacity for 25 mm rainfall. When Mumbai witnessed 955 mm rain in one hour, we felt Mumbai would drown. That is when it was felt that the drainage system needed upgradation. From 25 mm, the capacity was upgraded to 50 mm. Mumbai will not have any problem if it rains 50 mm. Even in case of 150-200 mm rain, the water will drain gradually in two to three hours, but the media only shows those two-three hours.

Shouldn’t Mumbai aspire to be like Shanghai or Singapore?
Mumbai can be compared to Shanghai, but not Singapore or Hong Kong as they are planned cities. Mumbai is not a planned city. It was seven islands that grew into a city. Compared to Singapore, Hong Kong or Dubai, we feel we are lagging behind. But visit Navi Mumbai and you will realise it is as good as England.
So how can the entire city be upgraded?
Mumbai’s problem is its population density, its old water drainage system and the number of people coming to Mumbai. But water supply, for instance, cannot increase overnight. Mumbai runs short of 550-600 mlt water. The gap cannot be plugged overnight. We have to bring in a new pond. To get that pond, the state government had to try for 10 years. There were issues from the environment ministry but now they have given the clearance. Work was to start in October 2010 but now it will start in October 2011. So the state government is identifying and addressing problems. As far as infrastructure is concerned, monorail is coming soon. Metro rail will soon be running in Mumbai. But I agree Mumbai requires a lot of things more, like more flyovers. In eastern Mumbai, many flyovers have been made which have removed many bottlenecks. But there are innumerable bottlenecks still creating chaos in the city. Government should start concentrating on constructing flyovers there so that the traffic moves smoothly. So there are difficulties, but I don’t think Mumbai’s infrastructure has collapsed. I don’t think this city is not liveable.

But isn’t it all messed up and unorganised?
Any big city is messed up. Look at Beijing; is that a liveable place? If you peep out of the hotel window at 6 am you see around one lakh cycles on the road. But no one will say life there is messed up. That is because this has become the life of the city. Here life starts at 4 am and people somehow make their way into the trains. Their life is always at risk. Getting inside the Best bus is a difficulty; the same happens with people travelling in trains. This is the way they have been leading their lives for years. Mumbai meri jaan is what people have always felt.

Given a chance, what would you change?
I have many plans for Mumbai. The first and foremost is to improve the drainage system. If they are spending Rs 1,600 crore rupees for 50 mm, I will spend Rs 1,600 crore more and scale it up to 100 mm. Then I will work on connectivity and build more flyovers. No city in the world has managed traffic without flyovers. I think around 30-35 flyovers have been made in Mumbai in the past decade but I think 100-150 are required to smoothen the traffic. If life in Delhi seems to have transformed, the credit should be given to the number of flyovers that have been built. Then comes the transportation system. Local trains carry every day the number of people equal to the population of Singapore. Some 60-65 lakh commute by trains daily. Tracks should be expanded but this is not possible due to the space crunch. If new tracks can be made then we will have to concentrate on metros and mono rails. These are the three things that I would like to focus upon. To fight against the scarcity of water, work is going on. There is supply for just half an hour in the big buildings where the rich class stays and also in the slums. The timings of the supply are also erratic. In the mornings, at 7 O’ Clock, when water is required the most, there is no supply. Only in the case of electricity supply we are very happy as there is no power cut in Mumbai. All the other basic amenities are scarce.

Have you addressed these issues as MP?
An MP cannot do much. We are a part of legislature and we don’t have a lot of executive rights. We get local area development funds worth Rs 2 crore. This sum does not go too far. There are 18 lakh people in my constituency and a minimum 125 slums. It takes Rs 8 lakh to build just one kilometre of road, which is nothing. So my focus is on cleanliness. When I was with Rajya Sabha, I got 172 toilets made here. In slums, I focus on toilets and in buildings and societies I get boring done. People face dearth of water. We get many calls early morning to provide water but it can’t happen overnight. I understand BMC is also helpless. I have always focused on providing water and cleanliness to people and this is what I plan to be doing in future also.



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