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Battleground Mumbai-Politics Vs People's issues

The BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) has come out with a project called Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP). This should become the civic poll issue

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation
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Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation

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India's financial capital goes to polls for its civic body which is the country's richest Municipal Corporation with Rs 45,949 crore budget. The civic elections which have been put off on the pretext of completing the OBC (other backward classes) quota formalities will have to be held with the Supreme Court questioning the inordinate delay in conducting the poll. The State Election Commission (SEC) had stated before the SC that the delimitation process cannot be completed before September. But the apex court said that process can go on but the election process cannot be held back indefinitely.

Elections will have to be held once every five years. It is widely known that the delimitation is only an excuse but the main reason is to finish the task of completing the OBC quota process which is politically important for all parties as the Maratha community, which has been fighting for the reservation, is a strong force to reckon with.

Votes matter for all parties and alliances. Remember, elections are due in 2,400 local bodies in Maharashtra including the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Pune. In a related case in Madhya Pradesh, the top court asked as to why the political parties can't give tickets to an increased number of OBC candidates, instead of waiting for the quota process to be completed. Valid point.

OBC quota is definitely a political issue, along with other subjects such as corruption charges. This obviously leads to the issue of use and misuse of the investigation machinery under the control of the State and the Centre. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) of the Maharashtra Development Front comprising the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress run the State, while BJP rules at the Centre. The daily quarrels and social media wars between them are thus understandable.

As we have been discussing in our previous columns, real issues concerning the people's day-to-day life unfortunately get relegated to the back burner during elections and other matters become burning topics. Take Mumbai city and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) under which Navi Mumbai and Thane fall, for instance. Any man on the street will tell you what are the real civic issues that matter to him. But are the political parties interested in focusing on the issues concerning the people? They are absolutely not. They are more interested in one upmanship in trying to send their opponents to jail and mudslinging on social media.

Going by Amit Shah strategy of micromanagement, the BJP has kickstarted a 'Pol Khol' drive targeting the MVA for its alleged corruption. The party, once in coalition with the Shiv Sena, says Mumbai gets potholes instead of good roads. Nothing new about it. Mumbaikar has been subjected to potholes for ages now, irrespective of the party in rule. But no one talks of finding a permanent solution by plugging corruption and ensuring that every rupee that is meant for road works is spent honestly.

Mumbai is notorious for its terrible traffic and crowded suburban trains form which commuters keep falling and dying. A study conducted by the Central Railway that runs the 'local' trains in parts of the City has suggested a Rs 20,000 crore makeover plan under which even the metro train fares could have been checked. I raised this issue, literally digging out the plan from the CR files, and pointed out from the report itself that the local trains run more than 400 per cent capacity, at times even at 800 per cent.

During a knowledge session at Mumbai Press Club in October 2016, we also pointed out that at least ten people die in local train accidents on a daily basis. Tragedy continues as the report, signed by two MPs among others, has been forgotten and the BJP-Sena alliance opted for an expensive, underground metro rail project. Now political games emerge over the Metro project with BJP alleging that the Shiv Sena is trying to take credit. The controversial metro yard at ecologically sensitive Aarey Forest is yet to be resolved. The Shiv Sena, during the last legislative assembly, promised to shift the metro yard from the green lung. The BJP threw the spanner in the Sena government's wheel as soon as the latter shifted the metro yard to another place at Kanjur Marg.

Former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya says corrupt people will not be spared, be they the members of Thackeray ministry or his family. Some of them (related to the ruling front) are visiting police stations, some are going to courts, Enforcement Directorate, CID and even hospitals (after arrest), Somaiya taunted. Sena MP Sanjay Raut countered by threatening to open the pandora's box against the BJP.

There is no harm if one fights against corruption; in fact, the opposition parties ought to raise such issues. But do they have to get so personal? With these diversions, no one cares about the real issues such as inflation, the killing cost of living, recurring floods, drinking water crisis, garbage, sewer line blocks, untreated sewer water directly entering the sea and above all recurring floods. The influential BJP does not seem to be bothered about an LPG cylinder costing Rs 1,000 and petrol more that Rs 120 a litre.

The BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) has come out with a project called Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP). This should become the civic poll issue. Environment should be an election issue as spiritual leader Jaggi Vasudev said.

Releasing the MCAP, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said, the plan is aligned to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement limiting global warming to 1.5°C. The evidence-based policymaking and stakeholder consultations that have led to the shaping of the MCAP will help Mumbai become a climate-resilient city.

Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray said, a day's delay in taking decisive, inclusive climate action is akin to adding months of uncertainty and vulnerability to the lives of our future generations. The climate crisis is no longer an event in the distant future but a reality unfolding in our everyday lives.

Now, consider what the Municipal Commissioner I S Chahal said: Mumbai is at high risk due to changing weather patterns. Between 1973 and 2020, Mumbai observed a warming trend with an average temperature increase of 0.25°C per decade. Over the years, of all the significant urban floods in India, three major ones have occurred in Mumbai in 2005, 2014 and 2017. Furthermore, as per the data from BMC's Disaster Management Department, 287 locations within Greater Mumbai are landslide-prone.

The climate crisis has been looming large under the rule of all political parties, without exception. This MCAP has to be discussed. It has to be truly an inclusive plan. Politicians should question as to why builders are given permissions from the Centre to dig into the seas and construct concrete jungles at a time when MCAPs of the world caution us about the rising sea levels by the year 2050 which is not far away.

Instead of working on and allocating funds and working on disaster management, we are busy blatantly attacking Nature. We haven't learnt any lessons from our experiences of encroaching into the sea by reckless landfills that have caused massive floods. Many politicians must be sent to jails for these violations over the years instead of targeting each other for political vendetta, that too by misusing the investigation machinery.

Environment is not an abstract subject. Environment is you and me. It matters for the survival of the city (and the extended areas of MMR). It is not about mere flooding of roads and railway tracks or scorching summers. It is about the slow death that the city is suffering from by inhaling toxic fumes and drinking contaminated water. Environment should be the ammunition for Battleground Mumbai, and not personal envy. The D-day of 2050 is less than 28 years away. The rising of the seas that will drown half of the State headquarters, Mantralaya, is not going to happen overnight on January 1, 2050. The sea is rising gradually every year.

(The author is a Mumbai-based media veteran known for his thought-provoking messaging)

B N Kumar
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