IGF: Mumbai Municipal Chief on the City’s Transformation to Enhance the Quality of Life for Residents

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The recently held 3rd India Global Forum (IGF) in Mumbai, inaugurated by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the presence of Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, emphasised the ongoing, large-scale infrastructure development in Mumbai.

At the event, the Municipal Commissioner, BMC, Mumbai, IS Chahal, sketched the city’s picture for the audience, particularly outlining the infrastructure development in Mumbai, famously known as India’s financial capital.

For India and the world, the city has always been a significant focus due to its status as one of the country’s most populous and economically vital urban centres. In his on-stage interview, the BMC chief spoke about the various projects initiated to address the city’s infrastructure challenges, including transportation, housing, water supply, waste management etc.

Mumbai’s transformation

Agreeing that the infrastructure was the key to Mumbai’s transformation, Chahal elaborated on the (infrastructure) plan, “An eight-lane, cement concrete coastal road will be built from the southern tip of Mumbai towards the northern tip of the city. The project cost is about Rs 45000 crore. We are already delivering the first leg of the coastal road shortly. It will open on Monday, 11 March, connecting to Mumbai’s iconic sea link.”

The next striking project of larger interest is the undertaking of the world’s largest wastewater treatment plant to clean Mumbai’s sewage water and bring it back to its potable level.

“Mumbai consumes a humungous 4000 ML of water per day, one of the highest anywhere in the world.  Once we recycle back in four years, there will be a new lease on marine life. I can promise that in 10 years, you will see fish on the shores of Mumbai,” said an upbeat Chahal.

Challenges

According to the BMC boss, two thorny issues needed to be tackled.

“Firstly, a city like Mumbai did not have a park of a substantial size (akin to the central park in New York). However, once the state cabinet approves it, we will have a 300-acre Mumbai Central Park in South Mumbai,” informed Chahal.

Further explaining, “Out of this, there is a 17-acre coastal garden coming up on reclaimed land from the sea, and then we have taken some portions from the Mahalaxmi Race Course. We are joining these two pieces through an extensive pedestrian subway. By the next year, citizens will enjoy a 300-acre central park in south Mumbai.”

The municipal commissioner’s second big challenge was affordable housing. “We need to deliver affordable housing to our citizens living in slum areas so that quality of life improves,” he said.

Presently, the city is witnessing more than 2 lakh crore of work, and if the MMRDA work is added, it would amount to more than $50 bn of work under development or construction.

“We did face problems, but in four years, Mumbai will be a world-class city, maybe even better than (other) so-called world-class cities,” he explains. However, he agrees that these problems are not unique to Mumbai. Other world-class cities face similar challenges.

One of the challenges is addressing the issue of high population density with a finite amount of space and a large population.

In Chahal’s opinion, it would be easier to control that aspect after the infrastructure work is completed.

On 12 January this year, the Prime Minister of India inaugurated Mumbai’s Transharbour Link, which connects South Mumbai to Raigad in Panvel. It opened up the window for a third Mumbai city. The other two are Mumbai (main) and Navi Mumbai. This almost 22 Km long harbour bay bridge has shrunk the distance between Panvel and Mumbai from two hours to 14 minutes.

“So this is how you ease out the housing problem,” says Chahal, indicating that people will start moving towards the new areas due to a robust infrastructure.

Lessons learnt from other parts of the world

The best example was the problem of excessive flooding in Mumbai between the monsoon months of June and October when the city received incessant rainfall.

Mumbai receives more than 130 inches of rainfall every year. Previously, the local trains (also seen as Mumbai’s lifeline for most daily commuters) would stop, and many areas faced water logging.

Hence, to acquire knowledge, the BMC sent its team to Tokyo, an equally dense city with high rainfall. They borrowed the Japanese best practices and returned to implement the Tokyo model in Mumbai.

“Now we have created holding tanks (underground) in many parts of the city. When flooding occurs during heavy rains, we push the water into the underground tanks; when the rain recedes, we pump the water into the city. As a result, between June 1, 2023, and October last year, the trains on the Western, Harbour and Central lines that carry 6 million people daily did not stop due to flooding even for a second. This was the first time in the history of Mumbai that we witnessed a flood-free monsoon last year. This is now going to continue forever,” says Chahal.

City government concept

BMC functions somewhat like the city government. How does the corporation handle a change in political leadership?

Throwing light on this unique aspect, Chahal says, “Mumbai luckily has a city government concept that does not exist in any other city in India. Hence, the autonomy granted to us has created a strong chain of command and execution with razor-sharp precision.”

Reminding of the coronavirus pandemic, the BMC chief says, “Our success during COVID-19 demonstrated that (our) performance was the best compared to anywhere in the world. It was due to this city government’s autonomy and a strong and integrated chain of command.”

The municipal commissioner said that the kind of autonomy BMC enjoys would surprise people, considering the cost of the projects was almost 2 lakh crore. It was being implemented without any assistance from any banking loans or any significant help from the governments. The commissioner claimed the municipal corporation managed all the projects using its resources.

Moreover, the coastal road, the first leg of which will be opened to the public, will be toll-free because the BMC did not borrow any money. “It is the first time in the world that almost a 2 billion dollar project is toll-free,” informs Chahal proudly.

Deep cleaning of the city

“Our Honourable CM Eknath Shinde shared his vision with us. He said that only when we get into lanes, by-lanes and slums and clean the roads can we claim that Mumbai is a clean city.
I can proudly say that for 14 Saturdays in a row, 10,000 of us, including the commissioners and the Chief Minister, got down on the road. For half a day, starting at six in the morning, we brushed the streets and footpaths, swept them, and watered them with high-speed jets. As a result, in the last 14 weeks, the city’s Air Quality Index, which was almost 375, came down to 30 a week ago,” said Chahal.

He pointed out that this activity was neither a photo-op nor a short-term project for the administration. It is here to stay—a permanent feature of Mumbai.

As per Chahal, “We are making it a people’s movement. We always say this is not a BMC or Government programme. The citizens, NGOs, stakeholders, students, NCC, and Scouts & Guides must join hands to make Mumbai one of the cleanest cities ever.”

Indeed, it is an astonishing endeavour!

Praising the IGF event, the BMC commissioner was pleased that it provided him with an excellent opportunity to showcase before global business leaders how Mumbai was turning out to be a world-class city.

He concluded, “Without a doubt, Mumbai will compete with any world-class city in infrastructure by 2028.”

India Global Forum

IGF is India’s version of the World Economic Forum. At the recently held event in Mumbai, delegates from more than 40 countries, as well as leading business people and industrialists from India, participated.

The 4th IGF is scheduled to be held in London this year.

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