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Mumbai can be made smart only through smart actions

Mumbai: Address of Shri M.Venkaiah Naidu, Minister of Urban Development, HUPA and Parliamentary Affairs at ‘Mumbai-Next?’ Conference in Mumbai : Friends ! -I am indeed delighted to be with such a distinguished gathering assembled for brainstorming over the fundamental issue of “Mumbai-Next?” -For this basic question, my simple answer is ‘Basics First’. Let us see what does this mean as we go along. -This thematic question is another variation of ‘India-What Next?’. These two questions are so intelinked that they almost become synonymous. If solutions can be found for the current problems of Mumbai, our country would instantaneously find solutions for the issues and challenges in the urban sector. -This is the story unraveling in urban India with attendant issues and challenges. That is why I have said, Mumbai’ s problems and solutions are that of India. -The present century belongs to cities, more particularly, in the context of our country. -Urban areas are the growth engines of economy, the world over. At present, about 65% of our GDP comes from urban areas that account only for about one third of our total population. Soon, this ratio is going to be 75%. -For our country to emerge as the economic power house  of the world, as we all dream to be in the near future, the key lies in the way we manage our urban expansion. -It comes with challenges. But opportunities also come knocking along with these challenges. So, the main question is, are Mumbai and India ready to seize these opportunities? -The criticality of urban areas for economic development is best captured in respect of Mumbai city. -Mumbai, the financial and commercial capital of our country accounts for 6.16% of country’s GDP, 10% of total factory employment, 25% of industrial output, 40% of foreign trade, 33% of total Income Tax collection, 60% of customs revenue and 20% of total central excise tax  collection. -Does one need any more evidence of importance of Mumbai and of urban areas for the economic development of our country? -It is in this context that this important event is being organized and I compliment ‘Mumbai First’ for this initiative. -Mumbai has several firsts to its credit. The first bus service introduced by BEST more than a hundred years ago, the first train got off the rails from here more than 150 years ago, the first railway station at Chatrapati Shivaji terminal, country’s first skywalks etc. -But where does Mumbai stand today? Why is it lagging behind in putting required infrastructure in place for its teaming population? Why is living here becoming a daily challenge? -With a Per capita Income in Mumbai three times that of national average which is estimated to reach an impressive level of US $ 23,000 per capita GDP by 2020-21, why is Mumbai crying for relief? -Mumbai is the land of opportunities and so thousands migrate to this city every day. This is an inescapable reality and this is challenge is required to be met in all seriousness. -While the urban rail transport system of Mumbai is being stretched to its limit and is being challenged every day, why is that this city has only about 11 kms. of modern metro service that too commissioned only last year between Versova and Ghatkopar as Mumbai Metro Line-1? Delhi, on the other hand has about 120 kms of Metro Rail and going to add another 150 kms. in the near future? -Obviously, basics went wrong some where. So, the need of the hour is to get the ‘Basics First’. What are these basics? Required transport infrastructure with multi-modality is the most fundamental of these basics. Housing and sanitation are the next imperatives. -The general deficiencies and challenges of urban planning and execution are most evident in the case of Mumbai. - Several infrastructure projects have been conceived and are being executed in Mumbai for making city life better. But where we are missing out on is the time taken for their execution for various reasons. These reasons, however real and genuine, can not be excuses for time and cost overruns. -The cases of missed timelines in respect of Navi Mumbai Airport, Mumbai Trans Harbour Link are some cases in point. -Resource constraint is the general excuse offered in our context. I am happy to read an interview of the Chief Minister Shri Devendra Fadanavis in a newspaper yesterday. He asserted rightly that funds are not an issue with several looking for investment opportunities. -What is needed are smart leadership and smart people to make any city worthy of living. -A smart leadership should put in place an enabling mechanism in place for quick project approvals and co-opt people in decision making and execution. People should be smart enough to realize their share of responsibilities in managing a city like Mumbai and be willing partners to enhance its capacities to rise to the challenges and convert them into opportunities. -After the last few months of being in office, I am convinced that given the nature of urbanization challenges, city development has got to be a people’s movement. It can’t be just the responsibility  of the executive. -Mumbai is known for the vibrancy of its citizens. People who can brave such adversities of living in Mumbai on a daily basis have the energies and abilities to take the city to a new level provided they are made partners in this task. -Only a couple of days back, we have organized stakeholder consultations on reducing the time taken for approving construction projects in urban areas. -I was told thereafter that in Mumbai, 27 clearences and no-objection certificates are required to be taken before starting any construction project. And on an average, it takes about six months to do so and in individual cases, the time taken is in the range of two years. Can we afford this as we dream of becoming an economic super power? - It follows that the ease of doing business in urban areas like Mumbai needs to be substantially improved so that we can build houses for slum dwellers by enabling investment flows that are critical to do so. -I am happy to know of the initiatives being undertaken by Mumbai Municipal Corporation to break into the top 30 cities in terms of ease of doing construction business. -We have asked Mumbai Corporation to come out with a model online integrated process for according approvals in 30 days which can be replicated by others in due course. -Shri Fadanvis has rightly referred in his interview to the need for clean projects that have all the approvals to attract investments. If we make such clean project proposals with appropriate financial models, investments will certainly flow and we can address the problems of Mumbai and other cities. -I understand that Mckensey has estimated an investment need of about US $ 9 billion per year over the next 10-15 years to meet infrastructure needs of Mumbai. This can be possible if only we have right investment climate in place. Friends ! -A decent house is a basic parameter of dignified living which is a matter of right for every citizen. I loose sleep when I think of Mumbai’s slums and the living conditions there. Can’t we fix this problem? We can provided there is will and can find a way forward. -The vested interests that thrive and exploit the misery of slum people need to be demolished with an iron hand and then evolve investible projects for redevelopment of slums in-situ or by relocation. -Our Prime Minister has asked all of us to collectively ensure housing for all by 2022 and we shall do it. -Sanitation in urban areas including in Mumbai is a matter of serious concern. Living by the side of filth all around, garbage piles, unkempt drains, leaking sewerage etc., amounts to negation of basic right to health. -PM has again launched another initiative of Swachh Bharat Mission to make Mumbai and all 4,041 statutory towns clean in the next five years. All of us collectively need to rise to the task. -Urban infrastructure including roads, efficient public transport, clean drinking water, solid waste management, digital connectivity, smart water and power grids, intelligent transport systems, responsive administration through e-governance, citizen participation in decision making, decent housing etc., are the fundamental requirements to make living in Mumbai and all urban areas worthy of it. -Inclusive urban development is our government’s motto. -Building smart cities and other initiatives of our government seek to address the challenges of urbanization as we seek to convert urban areas worthy of decent living and there by harness their potential of driving economic growth. -We have a smart leader in Delhi and one in Maharashtra. These are exciting times for the country. We have to reach out to newer horizons. We shall do so. Friends ! -A shower can’t bring life in Mumbai to a stand still. This is no way to make Mumbai fully emege as the global city and a global financial hub. -We have to get our basics right. We need to fix the basic problems of Mumbai in quick time. -What lies in store for Mumbai next also applies to the country. -All stakeholders including the people of this great city, corporators, MLAs, corporate the selected and elected executive need to rise to the occasion. -We can get the basics right if only we reorient our basic attitudes and mindset. -Mumbai can be made smart only through smart thinking and smart actions. -On this occasion and in the presence of the Deputy Finance Minister Shri Jayant Sinha, I would like to assure all of you that central government will not be found wanting in changing the contours of Mumbai. -In the end, ‘Mumbai-Next?’ –A new beginning to fix the problems by getting the basics in all aspects right.

About Sanjay Trivedi

Sanjay Trivedi is honorary editor of Asia Times. He is senior Indian Journalist having vast experience of 25 years. He worked in Janmabhoomi, Vyapar, Divya Bhaskar etc. newspapers and TV9 Channel as well as www.news4education.com. He also served as Media Officer in Gujarat Technological University.

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