Dear Nitin Gadkari ji, Your idea is good but its time hasn’t come

Nitin Gadkari Mumbai

Nitin Gadkari is an able manager, who can manage everything. The way he led BJP form government in Goa, despite being the second largest party speaks volumes of not just his manipulation skills but his determination too. He is sharp as a double-edged sword and the problem with such highly efficient people is that they almost have an idea, but sometimes people like Nitin Gadkari come up with ideas whose time hasn’t come.

In his enthusiasm, Nitin Gadkari has envisioned a new real estate plan to make Mumbai, an international city. As the minister of Shipping, he rules over Mumbai Port Trust, the biggest landlord in Mumbai. As such, some of the land owned by MPT is leased to many government and private entities including the India Hotels of TATA group that owns the iconic Taj Hotel near Gateway of India. Over the last one decade after realising the decongestion plans, container handling was shifted to Nava Sheva port, operated by JNPT situated on the opposite shore. There are many tenants who refused to vacate their residences and are paying rents at older rates, despite Supreme Court rulings. Pending dues in the form of rentals is more than a thousand crore.

As such, about 800 acres of land is available for MPT. MPT mooted a plan to have ‘Eastern Water Front’ in an area of 500 acres, though its Chairman says 300 acres would be released for development. The plan is now on drawing board after a consortium was signed to prepare a plan. The plan sounds nice. It talks of rehabilitating current tenants on the lines of Slum Rehabilitation Authority, new residence and commercial complexes on the lines of the BKC (Bandra-Kurla Complex) with a drive way that would be at least double the length of the famous Marine Drive and grounds bigger than Oval maidan with many parks.

This is not the first time such a redevelopment scheme has been thought about to use the MPT properly. There were many plans earlier too that failed to take off. For the first time, however it seems this is really happening. This sounds good. True. But, would it help Mumbai as everyone is talking of it? That is a million-dollar question.

For one, the question of rehabilitating tenants. The earlier biggest SRA scheme implemented at Dharavi was not implemented in a way that it should be replicated. However, in the scheme of things, the question of rehabilitation of tenants would be smaller as the land involved in such rehabilitation is not much.

The question is should Nitin Gadkari and the ministry of shipping be doing this? If at all, the government decides to use the land for non-port purposes, should it not de-allocate the land from the port trust and vest it with the government? All said and done, when a facility is built, much thinking goes into reserving land for it. If not the British reserved that much land for the port, it would have faced land crunch when it was expanding its operations before it got saturated and shifted part of operations to the new port. Even now, bulk cargo handling is done at MPT only. So, it may be better for the MPT to make an assessment of its land requirement and release the land that is excess. But, will ever there be an excess, especially for a port?

On the other hand, the government may close down all port activities and release the land for other purposes. It is government’s prerogative and considering the vehicular/train traffic due to the cargo, it may be better also for decongesting city’s traffic.

One good point to ponder over for Mr. Nitin Gadkari would be – Does Mumbai really need such plans, despite having land related problems. For one, Mumbai is one metro in India, without scope for expansion in all directions due to the natural limitation of being rounded by the sea on three sides.

So, the expansion happened only in the north of the city on both east and west sides. At present Mumbai is the most liveable metro in India owing to three factors. If Continuous supply of water and power are two factors credited to the governments that have ruled the city so far, Arabian Sea – the natural absorbent of pollution is the third one. Still, with the increase of road traffic, city’s pollution has surpassed Delhi’s this year for some time. The worst part of Mumbai, as of now is its roads. Roads of Mumbai, once famous for their width and smoothness have become heavily congested and are full of pot holes. If road congestion happened due to increase in vehicles, pot holes are simply due to corruption.

If the new water front comes up, it would at least add another three million to the city’s ever expanding population that is roughly ten percent of the current figure. The electrical infrastructure for transmission is already burdened. It is only nature’s gift that Mumbai has a large catchment area that fills on regular basis and the region normally experiences good rainfall during monsoons. One cannot even guess what happens if two monsoons fail in successive years. Unlike Delhi and Kolkata, Mumbai is not on the banks of a living river.

If Mumbai’s beaches on the west are dirty, the eastern shore is dirtier. Even the area of eastern shore has already reduced to salt pans and mangroves are slowly replaced to quench the thirst for dwellings. But, when it is reported that Lacs of flats are yet to be sold in Mumbai, what is the wisdom in building many more? The city is dotted with many unfinished constructions that would today value thousands of crores.

Given the fact the government could not start the desalination plant to produce 100 million litres of water daily, costing 1000CR because it could not get 25 hectares’ land from Mumbai port trust, despite the state and centre are ruled by BJP. To exploit the situation, Shiv Sena asks the government to handover all the land that the governments have in their control to BMC. Well, that would be even worse given the efficiency of BMC is considered. As such, about one sixth of land in Mumbai is vested with either state or central governments. And much of it is encroached, especially the railway land.

It is time to streamline infrastructure of Mumbai as like the many skyways and mono rail, there are many visible failed examples of past ambitious plans. Most of these plans have failed because they were executed with the intention of earning through contracts without proper study and evaluating needs and practical uses. As such, migration of educated persons with higher skills has reduced in Mumbai. With the emergence of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune, not much new jobs in industry are created in Mumbai. In fact many bigger companies have shifted their operations outside Mumbai. Only financial institutions are still thriving in the city. As such, I never got it how Mumbai accounted for one third of revenue of exchequer, when goods and services produced in Mumbai account for much less. As the registered offices of many business houses are in Mumbai and they pay tax there, does it mean Mumbai accounts for the revenue and not the states where operational units are located?

Above all, bigger Mumbai pose a security problem during war time. If there is no sufficient free space, contingency measures cannot be enforced effectively. First, MPT and even the Railways identify the land they have and take control of it. It is better they settle issues with tenants and illegal encroachers and take control of the land and prevent further encroachment. The need of land for these organisations may be re-evaluated and released for constructing roads and new rail lines, but not for real estate where the ownership goes out of government’s control.

First, the government should tell all its departments what is their main job. What is the need for MPT to think about real estate? If MPT has excess land as the case is now, they shall think of creating infrastructure to cater to future demand. Rather, if every department thinks of making money by selling land to make profits while officers pocket commissions, it is really a bad sign of governance.