A reality check Mr. Correa and Mr. Parekh?

Dear Mr. Correa,

There are some serious flaws in arguments raised in your interview in DNA 28th October, 07 – Thank God for Marine Drive – and I thought it necessary to react to the same.

Of particular interest was the para below:

Of course there is no sense endorsing indiscriminately every new development. Any proposal must be studied. But this has to be done intelligently, keeping in mind the broader issues involved. Unfortunately, nowadays this is very seldom true. People are accepting at face value pronouncements made by self labeled ‘greens’ about environmental concerns, in some cases, regardless of their total lack of experience or training, or intuitive insight into the complex problems.

I must say at the onset that I am not personally offended by your comments. being an environmental activist. It’s just the sweeping-ness of it that upsets me. There is an element of truth in your comments but you are not able to hit the nail on the head because either you choose to be diplomatic and polite and lazy taking the easy way out – or maybe you really don’t know a lot of things(in which case you shouldnt comment). There certainly is a threat from environmentalists who are doing far less than they are made out to be and from another section of environmentalists whose behaviour has become so dangerously compromised that some in the development lobby liken them to extortionists. Also I would like to invite you and Mr. Parekh and others to some of these areas which are being proposed for reclamation. Attaching the picture of one such area in the end.

Also I say a bit breathlessly that there is a lot more to the city than Marine Drive.

Don’t you think that what you are saying in the above para is so enormously self-contradictory? Most of the allegations you make against self labeled ‘greens’ are actually truer for Ivy League trained ‘experts’ like you. Has it not become one of the fundamental tenets of developmental policy and urban planning to be inclusive in a manner which involves all stakeholders? As opposed to being driven by a few vested interests and driven primarily by greed. Shouldn’t ‘renowned urban planners’ like you be taking the lead in involving the ones who are far less educated than you and have ‘less intuitive insight’ into complex problems? How much of that is happening in Mumbai as compared to some other cities around the world case studies of which you would know by heart. Whatever happened to carrying capacity, density requirements, per capita open space, super crush loads and so on?

And some of these less-educated-than-you are the greens who have been sprouting across the city. The issue of reclamation is less of an environmental and more of a governance issue. You should take time out to understand the import of developments like the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the constitution. Many of your ‘planning and development experts’ (including some environmentalists) – which ironically also include politicians whom we have clearly come to see as corrupt and compromised coterie don’t seem to understand it well.

I was a Project Officer at Bombay First from 2003-2005 and got a good ringside you of the likes of you, Mr. Parekh, organizations like Bombay First and the general planning coterie. Don’t try to make me believe that people like you and Mr. Parekh or hollow and completely compromised and unethical organizations like Bombay First have some great intuitive insight into Mumbai’s problems. In my opinion you are certainly a bit over hyped about your contributions to the city. You don’t have much of a clue about the city’s needs and anyways spend most of the time touring the world. Since you don’t stay here and don’t bother to study or experience in detail the problems people go on an ongoing basis (besides just housing) I don’t think you should make sweeping comments. If you could only help in impacting some of the organizations and committees you are associated with that would be good.

I saw the Citizens Action Group being formed and the various committees being formed after the Vision Mumbai Report and know what a shallow and stage managed exercise it was. A lot of what went on there had no comparison to the ‘face value pronouncements made by a few self labeled greens’. A lot of those concerns at least don’t have the huge agendas that drive these committees. What the city needs is genuine sustained and in depth (as opposed to superficial) dialogue between various stakeholders and I don’t see the planning experts exerting themselves sufficiently in that direction. I dont think even the environmentalists are doing it but the paucity of resources – of the kind available to the organised and state sponsored planning community – is a very real issue.

In a large part this dilemma arises because fundamentally we are an undemocratic culture which has always been ruled by a few of the kings or the zamindar’s men. Staying in South Bombay or jet setting to world class cities doesn’t seem to erase that. I find it only getting exacerbated in the case of Indians. At the launch of the Vision Mumbai report itself I used to say what we need is a World Class mindset before we come anywhere close to a world class city. How much of that even Bombay First demonstrated is a shock. I wonder what you have to say about the competency of the current CEO of Bombay First about intuitive insight into complex problems.

The reason (and this is the most important point in my argument) that the pronouncements of a lot of greens sound hostile and unpalatable is because when any planning exercise regarding the development of Mumbai takes place what is not practiced is what you preach –“ Any proposal must be studied. But this has to be done intelligently, keeping in mind the broader issues involved.

Are you suggesting that Mr. Parekh or you or some others you may end up suggesting are intelligent enough to study the proposals? I don’t think so. The proposals will be passed through the CAG and some other docile committees and get pushed ahead in the ‘larger interest of the city’. Don’t you think the green pronouncements are keeping some broader issues in mind? I do think so. Various factions whether the poor or the greens are continuously left out of discussions on Mumbai’s matters and yet people like you make it sound as if the development sector is a victim and being harrassed by misled elements.

And the double standards are what have really defeated the whole planning process and created rifts between various social factions in Mumbai. The point of balance is difficult to find in such an atmosphere. Maybe a lot of reclamation is actually possible and maybe a lot of environmentalists would agree to these arguements if they were well researched and presented. But in the current atmosphere of secrecy and venal and greedy interests driving the arguements dont even consider the same happening.

Incidentally while I am not as trained and ‘degreed’ as you I consider myself sufficiently well educated to comment on Mumbai’s issues and am open to being further educated. I had plans to going to some of the Ivy League schools to better my intuitive insights but when I saw some of my peer groups doing one off don’t-use-plastic-bags campaigns, showing it in their CVs and pushing of to these colleges I felt I was better of doing serious grassroots work with even some wishy-washy greens.