An alternate to Pedder Road flyover (elevated road)

The proposed Pedder Road flyover has apparently got some final clearance, which means there may be a final go ahead.

Some people are happy and some sad and I am in the latter category. You cannot just obliterate the aesthetics of one of the most beautiful urban road in the country for something as mundane as traffic jams.

And if a solution to the traffic mess on Pedder Road is what is required then here are my solutions:

1) Create the tunnel below Malabar Hill, make the coast road alignment between Priyadarshini Park and Haji Ali. A whole lot easier and no disruptions to existing traffic at all.

You will not have any of these issues mentioned in the following article

The MoEF order goes on to say, “Thick vegetation cover, wherever required, will be used for the attenuation of noise. Stationary construction equipment will be placed away from habitation. Construction contract specifications should mention use of less noise generating equipment.

“High noise generating construction activities like drilling and compacting should be carried out only during day time in residential areas. Asphalt and hot-mix plants should not be used at site. Dust should be controlled by sprinkling water on the ground. Big solar-powered air purifiers should be mounted on streetlight poles. The construction as well as excavated material should be disposed off during the night, when traffic will be less.”

Anyways the MOEF order seems to display complete ignorance of where the proposed flyover(elevated road) is to be located when it says “ Thick vegetation cover, wherever required, will be used for the attenuation of noise.”

2) In the second option, MSRDC instead of making the sealink between Bandra and Versova should take up Priyadarshini Park to Worli. The traffic congestion on Pedder Road is far more severe than it is between Versova and Bandra.

The proposed flyover will be an ugly piece of infrastructure which we will have to suffer all our lifetimes and it is worth it to deliberate and consider the options. Yes the cost will go up but I think it will not be as much as some would like us believe.

An MOEF clearance does not mean everything and the opposition to the Pedder Road flyover must continue till it is shelved.

Lack of a convincing and binding narrative in the anti-corruption fight in India

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell

The quote could hold true in India on both sides of the corruption fence. Administrators who have a lot to offer are fiddling and so are civil society members.

If the media brouhaha is to be relied upon then 2011 has been the year when India finally decided to do something against the corruption monster. India Against Corruption does give the notion that the whole of India has risen united against corruption and it is just a few months or years of struggle and we will soon have a ‘corruption free’ India.

The ‘much informed’ and connected world that we live in these tweets and posts and newscasts and headlines magnify into a gushing electronic river which creates an impression of some great revolution going on.

But how united is India against corruption and is 2011 really that year which will see the dawn of a new era going ahead. Is the Jan Lokpal Bill the bellwether? The media is notorious for its inability to capture lesser known but equally significant aspects of any issue. And I would like to state that the JLB campaign is the most unconvincing narrative I have heard to date about how corruption can be fought. And as regards binding, there are a number of other equally strong narratives which completely debunk the JLB line of thinking.

Those in the RTI brigade have their own stories to tell and there are the hard liners there who feel it is the panacea – one magic wand to fight all corruption. While it has helped a lot in the past few years we are now well aware of the kind of mess that RTI has landed itself in. And we are also aware of how little endemic corruption has reduced.

There are people from my line of thinking – a faction within activists,  strongly believe that if you have to run a society well there is no alternative to each and every citizen involving themselves in decisions taken for them by the government and RTI and JLB can be means but certainly no substitute for active involved citizens – in the absence of which all institutions are destined to fail.

And beyond the electronic gush and divergent narratives, if you walk the streets, travel on public transport and visit government offices you realise that there is hardly any feeling of a revolution – far less any incremental change from business as usual.

The one who shouts the loudest is seen the most but that does not mean he comprises the majority and it also doesn’t mean that he makes the most sense. Within the civil society arena there is considerable consternation at the disproportionate attention that the JLB campaign has drawn and for the little it will deliver. And I for one have been the most vociferous – though not public – critic of the JLB movement.

Most JLB supporters fall in a category which clearly showcases India as a country of blind belief, of unquestioning people and of people who believe disproportionately high in miracles – in this case a Jan Lokpal who like some avatar of Vishnu will come and kill the demon of corruption. All the while the people themselves will do nothing and only engage in rituals. Rituals like feel good messages on facebook and Twitter, hair raising melodramatic messages of patriotism and glory, amass at grounds, waive flags, sing songs, do dinchaka dances, create posters and wear some stupid caps and uniforms, rush in at the sight of their Anna, build cordons around him, hold candles with poignant faces. This is the most of active citizenry we see in India.

Mumbai is in the midst of making its much jinxed but important development plan for the coming decade and the number of people participating there are a very poor proxy for an educated middle class class, which has abandoned any meaningful engagement with their immediate surroundings. A lot of these will be found washing their sins in the JLB Ganga.

It is fascinating to see the huge amount of logistics and resources that people have decided to sink into all the activities that have gone to support the campaign, from time to money to their vehicles and offices and other resources. Ask them to come forward for supporting something substantive and all you hear is doubt. Its fascinating also to see how those who have something substantive to offer do not have an equal strength of resolve and the energy to scale their thoughts. Its like the Bertrand Russell quote.

There are the organisers and then there are the supporters. While the organisers have a lot of experience dealing with governance most of the supporters are people who wouldn’t even know their elected representatives and municipal budgets properly. And without ever participating in the governance of their cities they would like a JLB to come an rid their municipal corporations clean of corruption – Mere Bhartiya Mahan.

People who have been critical of the JLB have not bothered to come together for an anti-JLB campaign, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they would number equal or more.

It is sacrilege in India to be critical of campaigns and individuals in India, and especially of those in the civil society arena but still I have to comment on the organisers of IAC.

Having known Mayank Gandhi for a decade now I am not surprised at the manner and form of the campaign. I worked with him in 2008 in the immediate last association, where I was thoroughly disappointed with his approach towards the inner city redevelopment project that we were working on.

It was the same rallies and conventions and high sounding rhetoric without any substantive thought leadership or a plan which was well crafted to the existing reality. The much needed and important initiative tanked into oblivion.

Even before JLB Mayank and some of those who are part of IAC had been part of campaigns which have promised panacea but have only seen the targeted issues going from bad to worse – the Metropolitan Planning Commission and NagaraRaj Bill to give examples. At one time these campaigns were also peddled with equal conviction and noise as the JLB of today. All along I have been equally unconvinced choosing to stay convinced that there is no substitute to active citizenry.

Public memory is short, critical evaluation is sacrilege and Bharat Mata copiously produces blind believers so we continue to have one ineffective campaign after the other.

The only good thing maybe the current anti-corruption and JLB Campaign  have done is to help do an inventory of some of the naive people in India – the census doesn’t have one such category and so its been very helpful.

And when I say people I must qualify that it is the educated middle class – the ones with a full stomach who can afford time pass. The vast majority of the population, the economically not so well off,  have been sanguine. The electoral victories of the NCP (Anna’s bete noire) in the recent municipal council elections in Maharashtra are an indicator even after discounting for electoral malpractices.

Hindus and Hinduism in a Hindu Heartland

My latest assignment takes me to the Kalbadevi area of Mumbai. Amongst the oldest areas of the city, it could be more than two centuries old. The area was originally the only commercial business district of the city and in spite of the city growing far more in all directions and with much more business districts it still retains its status as the prima donna of trading areas. It is the bastion of members of India’s most prominent trading communities, the Gujarati’s, Marwari’s, Punjabi’s, Sindhi’s and the Jain’s.

The area (even Kalbadevi’s immediate neighbourhoods) does thousands of crores worth of turnover daily in almost every conceivable material and commodity that the country produces, exports or imports.

My assignment is about a project looking into how the area can be systematically redeveloped as per a Master Plan. My role is to engage the community in the area so to understand their views and demands from the redevelopment exercise. Besides, my key area of interest remains environmental sustainability and the project has an interest in incorporating best practices, such that the environmental impact of the new planned development is minimal.

I have a historic connect with the area since my father was born and lived most of his youth a little away from where my site office is. I too would have been born in the area but thankfully wasn’t. As a kid in the 1980’s I would visit this area during vacations or odd times and would be pretty disgusted with the crowds, the dirt, the strained urban nature and complete lack of any civic sense amongst most of the residents of the area. And to top it there would be a certain sense of pride and arrogance in the way they lived – just because they live in Kalbadevi and South Mumbai. I would wish death to most of the people then, and a great fire to the area. None happened and the area is as dirty and the people as incapable of finding a solution for their area. Though my father passed away last year.

My father was every bit the solution finder and imaginative about urban issues as I am except that all he wanted to do was to show his knowledge and impress his ideas upon people. He was no different from the average Kalbadevi-ite in being able to take initiative (at least on such issues).

When I compare my childhood memories then I feel the area has certainly improved in its civic sense and cleanliness a lot. Then I would see these really vicious people whom you couldn’t say a thing if they threw waste from their windows on the street. Or the streets were much dirtier and littering more prevalent then. I think globalisation and the exposure to the world (through TV for most) has made the area cleaner.

Now as I spend ‘quality time’ in the area (almost 12 hours a day at times) in the area I cannot once again but observe in detail the people of the area, their behaviour, their thought patterns, their levels of civility, their imagination levels and their display (or lack of it) of those more elevated levels of behaviour that humanity fervently chases.

The area is pre dominatly Hindu and Jain and I get intrigued about the role of religion and culture in the current state of the area. I live further north of the area in the suburbs in a building which has a compound space where cars can be parked and kids can play. On one side of my building there is a 5 acre garden and immediately facing my 3rd floor balcony is a small garden with palm trees. As I write this sitting in my balcony I think about how contrary the atmosphere is in Kalbadevi.

Kalbadevi reeks of sewage and rotting garbage as they mix in narrow gaps between two buildings called house gullies. These house gullies are areas where the sewage and water pipelines for the buildings pass through. Some of the individual tenements of the buildings find themselves with one window besides the house gully and people do not think twice before throwing garbage into these. Over time the garbage mixes with sewage leaking from decades old pipes and the combination stinks only to be cleaned by the Municipal authorities once in a while. Rats find it a very convenient home.

The people live in dingy buildings with dark and foreboding staircases. Most buildings are supported with stilts and other props which keep them from falling. Most people live in 200-400 sq. feet tenements and share common toilets. An average of 4-5 people live in tenements of this size. For most people at least a generation or two has lived like this. I wonder what kind of lives these people must be living in these units.

Businessmen have over the years carried out their trading from such places and become multimillionaires able to afford posh flats close by and travel all over the world. But the wealth has had no impact in their attitudes towards their neighbourhood.

The area doesn’t have any open spaces and playgrounds. Children play gully cricket on Sundays or sometimes go to Azad Maidan and other grounds a little bit away. While a century back most of the commercial and economic activity was limited to some of the well defined markets in the past few decades a number of the residential tenements in buildings have been converted to various commercial usages including storage of cotton yarn and other products. Labour and business visitors throng the area during the day.

When we come up with the idea of a planned redevelopment of the area I wonder how these people have anyways lived like this all these years. What kind of a culture do these people belong to which allows people to live in these kind of conditions for decades without finding solutions? Is it the same culture which proudly talks of the Mohenjo Daro civilisations, which provided for exemplary levels of drainage 5000 years back.

I have for long been a vocal critic of the jingoism that passes of for Indian culture and Hinduism and its supposed greatness over western culture and other cultures. And in Kalbadevi that supposed greatness gets not only questioned but also cremated. When a culture and people get so busy to get into one upmanship and petty rivalry and arrogance at the cost of even not being able to live in clean and decent surroundings then there is not an iota of greatness in that culture.

The jingoists present India and Hinduism as the one stop shop for solutions to all the problems of the world. We gave the world the zero, which in itself is such an over riding contribution, that the world just need not doubt us about our ability and ask for anymore proof. But still the benign and generous and most intelligent people that we are we can give you the yoga and Ayurveda to take care of all your health problems. Our intelligent techies run the wheels of the world. Our culture is unparalleled and we are a country which respects it elders and where the family is most sacrosanct unlike the defiled West. Number of half truths and unchallenged statements.

Kalbadevi is full of super religious Hindus. I consider myself a rational Hindu – considering the Gods to my friends whom I say hi and bye to and whose counsel I seek in times of need. The Hindus of Kalbadevi are different. They are a bit too much into their gods and temples and rituals and a bit too less in loving their fellow beings. They are vicious lot who like the quote goes “mooh pe ram aur bagal mein choori” can never be trusted with what ill they may have in their minds for their fellow residents.

And when I hear of the same people talking of the problems like the Amarnath yatra and the damage Muslims are doing etc. I wonder what is stopping them from doing some good for their own selves in their own secure bastion? The Muslims or other imagined enemies are not responsible for the ridiculously bad living conditions in which these people live in a completely Hindu area. For all the talk of benevolence neither the tenants or the landlords display any of the characteristics which the thousands of spiritual gurus – which the area follows cultivates – propound. Members of castes and sects, and sub castes and sub sects are so wedded to their narrow community and dogmatic that they will not cooperate with another Hindu also.

I think it is these characteristics – which too me somewhere have become representative of Hindus- which are turning out to be the biggest enemy of Hinduism.

I cant help splitting up when I hear people talk of making the temple at Ayodhya and collecting funds for the yatra and other such things. If Ram was around he wouldn’t have come to so much as even shit in this area. If one were to believe that God exists everywhere then the wealthy and not so wealthy of Kalbadevi need to first do something about the squalor they have reduced their temple to, with absolutely no help from Babar or his tribe.