When a builder becomes a party chief And a poet makes a case for motorists

Written by Vidydhar Date | Published on: July 18, 2019
Is then no nook of English ground free from rash assault , asked the famous English poet William Wordsworth more than 170 years ago. He was responding to the threat posed by the so-called development to Nature in his beloved lake district.

parking Policy

Since then the threat to the environment has increased manifold in different parts of the world. One would expect our poets to be more sensitive to such issues. But the very opposite seems to be happening.

Pritish Nandy, poet , is now also a corporate figure, but still it is surprising that instead of criticising the assault on environment in Mumbai, he has chosen to defend the perpetrators in an article in Mumbai Mirror today. His columns are generally fairly sensible but here he has shown an utterly grotesque understanding of civic issues.

Instead of raising his voice against the worst violations of the car-builder lobby, cars parked on the road illegally, grabbing public space, he has chosen to condemn the civic body for imposing a fine on them, accusing the civic body of profiteering.

This argument is ludicrous by any standards. Surely, Mr Nandy is well travelled and he should know how stiff penalties are against erring motorists in the West.. Even the U.S. president is expected to pay a congestion charge in London though even ordinary American diplomats are refusing to pay this simple levy.

Mr Nandy seems to be totally unaware of the real issue, it is not that every motorist is being fined. Lakhs of cars still enjoy free parking on our roads. Only those cars are being fined where the motorist does not use the assigned car park in the vicinity and pay a fee. The only argument that can be made is that there are not enough signages for motorists about car parking. The real argument should be that the civic body has been extremely callous all these years and has allowed motorists to enjoy free use of public space. The motorists have got used to their assault on public space and they now think it is their right.

Mr Nandy also seems to be totally unaware that several builders have committed what may be called a massive fraud. They have used huge FSI benefits but not provided car parking for the public for years. In many areas wherever such facilities have come up in high rises, few motorists are parking as they don’t like to pay. This is criminal by any standards. A Malabar hill housing society which has gone to court challenging the civic body’s fine for illegal parking has itself reportedly committed serious violations. Some of its residents have converted garages in the building into commercial establishments. So, who is the culprit, Mr Nandy ?

Things are just beginning to look up in Mumbai with the minimum BEST bus fares being reduced from Rs. 8 to Rs 5 in a major fillip to public transport after years of assault on the bus system by those in authority. The fine on wrong car parking is another major step, the Mumbai high court came down yesterday heavily against the elitist motor car-centric, wasteful, expensive coastal road project . Also we now have a fairly environment-conscious municipal commissioner in Mr Praveen Pardeshi. Various groups of citizens are meeting at Cama hall in Mumbai on Friday to press the demand for further strengthening of public transport.

There is need for more public pressure for further boosting of public transport as is being done in civilised countries. We need criticism of wrong policies of the government, not good ones.

For too long politicians and several bureaucrats have worked, one would even say conspired to weaken public transport. Citizens now need to take the initiative from them. Recently, it came to light that the Maharashtra state road transport corporation, the public sector body running bus transport, wanted to squander away funds on a super speciality hospital in memory of Mr Bal Thackeray, former Shiv Sena chief, and an engineering college. In any case a very foolish decision because what we need on priority is preventive medical care, not five star medical tourism and the racket of private engineering colleges has already proved a disaster as there are few students taking admission. Look at the audacity, a public transport body indulging in such exercises.

Some bright bureaucrats want to create a golf course in Navi Mumbai when the existing one in Kharghar lies almost deserted and is being used at least partly for cattle grazing. Such is our ruling class and such are its policies..

Mr Nandy is a former Shiv Sena M.P., Rajya sabha member. Was he aware that 1000 parking slots for public parking were built in Kohinoor building of former Shiv Sena chief minister Manohar Joshi opposite Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar ? This was done to give the builder huge FSI concessions. Apparently, few people knew about this. It is only now with the parking crisis in the city that this has become known and the lots have been handed over to the civic body. The general experience is that extremely unscrupulous builders misuse such concessions. Few raise questions are raised as the builder lobby is now virtually ruling the city.

There could be no better indication of this than the announcement yesterday that Mr Mangalprabhat Lodha, one of the biggest builders in Mumbai, has been appointed the president of the city unit of the BJP. Moneybags have been ruling city politics for a long time. Mr Murli Deora, who was extremely close to the Ambanis, remained city Congress president for decades despite a series of electoral defeats for the party in the city. But Mr Deora at least had some grassroots experience, he had come up through municipal politics first as corporator , then as Mayor.

Mr Lodha wanted a few years ago to take over a pedestrian path in Malabar Hill and turn it into a motorable road. This extremely anti-people move was fortunately foiled by public pressure.

It would be interesting to see what stand he now takes as city party chief to the government’s pet project, the coastal road. As an MLA he had resorted to a sit-in agitation on the road earlier this year against the project but this was apparently mainly to placate upper class voters in his Malabar hill assembly constituency who oppose the project as it would bring in more cars in the area and increase congestion. Some of the rich residents even on Altamount road do not want to pay ordinary fee for parking on the road. This is the deeply anti-people nature of the system.

Those defending the coastal road do not even make intelligent arguments. Hafeez Contractor, a prominent architect for sprawling luxury colonies, has no compunction whatsoever in defending the most indefensible assault on the environment. He was completely outwitted by architect Shweta Wagh on a television channel yesterday. He said motorists are spending hours in traffic jams and so need the coastal road. Now whose fault is that if the roads are congested ?. The solution is to reduce the number of cars on the road and promote public transport. These defenders of the establishment live in absolute ignorance of good practices in the West. We need a bypass , else the city will die, he argued. Any decent doctor would tell him it is better to prevent a thrombosis than go in for heart surgery. There are easier inexpensive ways of healing the heart. But doctors make a killing by performing heart surgeries, many of which are totally unnecessary. Read the Lancet or other serious medical journals. So corrupt politicians and bureucrats and the builder lobby benefit from creating problems and then offering expensive solutions.

How serious the problem of parked cars on the road became clear yet again last night. A Doordarshan van could not find its way to the house of Sulakshana Mahajan, urbanist, due to car parking on the road in Thane so she could not participate in a national programme on the house collapse in Dongri in south Mumbai.

She has translated eminent urban thinker Jan Gehl’s book Cities for People into Marathi and has written some books on urban issues. She personally took Gehl to the municipal corporation, organised his lecture there some time ago.

Unfortunately, our extremely corrupt and anti-people establishment has no interest in simple solutions like those offered by Gehl. It is interested only in fancy projects, does not matter if this ruins the city and its environment.

Vidydhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratisation of street life in particular and the urban fabric in general