When Pramod Mahajan rose to interrupt the noted constitutional expert Fali Nariman in Parliament and thunder against any thought of a separate administration in Mumbai, his audience in the financial capital sneered in contempt.
After all, there is nothing surprising about Pramod Mahajan’s opposition, or that of Vilas Rao Deshmukh or even Uddhav Thackarey. In all their public life, they have repeatedly demonstrated that they are out of touch with public sentiment — certainly in Mumbai.
Pramod Mahajan lost the last election he contested from Mumbai and has since turned into an election management expert with fairly dubious results. Uddhav Thackarey has inherited the Shiv Sena leadership without a mass base of his own. As for CM Vilas Rao Deshmukh of Latur, his long perambulation with a TV channel on July 27 demonstrated his inability to grasp either the seriousness of the disaster or how to deal with it.
Don’t our politicians ever learn anything by observation? A disaster is time for action and regular, staccato media briefings by the police and administration, not leisurely interviews. These were badly missing in the first two days.
State Home Minister R.R. Patil, whose crowning achievement has been the banning dance bars in Mumbai, was marooned on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The Shiv Sena is considered a Mumbai-based political party; but its role in creating Mumbai’s problems was best exemplified by the whopping Rs 421 crore bid for Kohinoor Mills by its leaders Raj Thackarey and former Chief Minister and Speaker Manohar Joshi.
Raj Thackarey has never has to declare the source of his wealth, which ostensibly comes from the building trade. And Manohar Joshi deftly pre-empts any questions about the wealth declared in his election affidavit by saying that his son is in charge of the lucrative construction business.
One of the biggest achievements of the Sena-BJP government was to raise construction density and encourage haphazard development of Mumbai’s suburbs by permitting the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Much of this was done in the name of slum redevelopment. The bleeding of Mumbai, however, cuts across all political parties.
Former Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde went on a dereservation spree before the last election. An embarrassing 65 decisions taken by him on elective eve have been stayed by his successor and the change in rules for development of Mumbai’s vast Mill Lands has landed in court.
The BJP has its own builder interests. Mangal Prabhat Lodha, a sitting MLA, is another big bidder for buying up Mumbai’s Mills. NCP leader Sharad Pawar also counts builders among his closest friends. Let us look at other ways in which Maharashtra bleeds the resources generated by India’s financial capital.
Mumbai is among the only cities that still charge a hefty octroi duty for entry of goods. Even after the rampant leakage of duty, due to the primitive collection process, octroi is justified on the plea that it pays the salaries of the overstaffed municipal corporation. In fact, 70 per cent of the tax money collected from Mumbaikars funds the wage bill. And an aggressive trade union constantly blocks the privatisation of services.
Yet, Municipal Commissioner Johnny Joseph told the media that better service would need more employees. So the city finds new ways to extort money from hapless citizens. A simple example is parking charges. Despite the frequent de-reservation of plots meant for schools and playgrounds, the Municipal Corporation has not thought it fit to build a single multi-level parking facility in Mumbai.
This makes the roads a happy hunting ground for the traffic police who earn hefty revenue by towing away cars from one half of the roads and for private contractors to collect parking charges from the other half. Even here, the city plans to double the parking charges, without even attempting to staunch leakage by using devices such as electronic sensors or smart cards.
One of the biggest controversies today is the manner in which the MithiRiver has been choked by the proliferation of slums on its banks and creeping reclamation. The river has finally received the attention it deserves after it went on a rampage.
The de-silting and restoration of the Mithi was part of the plan for the spanking new financial district called the Bandra-Kurla complex. While the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) raised several thousand crores by selling plots, but the money was systematically siphoned off by the state government to fund its cotton procurement schemes and subscription to irrigation bonds floated by State companies.
Consider another example. During the BJP-Sena rule, Mumbai built nearly 40 flyovers and the Mumbai-Pune Expressway by partially funding them through a cess on petrol and diesel. This is in addition to the tax levied by the central government for the golden quadrilateral project (that is why Mumbai pays the highest petrol and diesel charges in the country).
This money too goes into a consolidated pool of state revenue and the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) is in a constant struggle to recover it. The state has recently introduced a similar legislation to exploit Mumbai’s status as the financial capital by charging stamp duty on every transaction that is conducted through the BSE and NSE.
This levy can only be collected within the state. But Maharashtra has twisted this logic to decide that since the stock exchange servers are located in Mumbai, every investor in India will have to pay for the privilege in the form of stamp duty. While the Congress government at the Centre remains a silent spectator to this exploitation, the issue will probably be decided in court.
However, thinking citizens have also to share the blame for this state of affairs. Until they were physically hit by the deluge and forced to walk in stinking, neck-deep water alongside corpses of humans, rodents and animals, most middle class Mumbai refused to concern itself with the systematic exploitation of the metropolis. Finally, the public interest litigation against bad governance and the SMS campaign to drum up support for their cause has turned into a rallying cry. But if Mumbai’s politicians and their leaders in Delhi do not understand the force of public anger this time, they may be in for a huge surprise.