Author : Ramanath Jha

Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Nov 12, 2018
Mumbai: The highly inclusive governance architecture

The policy of open entry into Mumbai has led the city to shoulder about the greatest demographic overload that the world has witnessed. However, just as the policy of ticketless passage into Mumbai has been driven by its objective of unimpeded inclusion, so has been its governance architecture. The city’s governance pie has been served on the table with dozens of organisations given the freedom to carve out a piece for their own taste.

To begin with, we have the MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) providing municipal services to the city. The popularly elected municipal body is headed by the Mayor, the city’s first citizen and the ceremonial head. Since Mumbaikars are known for celebrating gods, festivals and sundry events round the year with great verve and vigour, there is an absolute necessity to have a ceremonial head to represent the city at such festivals. The Mayor thereby spearheads the process of inclusion in Mumbai. The city’s democratically elected councilors number more than two hundred. Their presence in various municipal committees is aimed at injecting popular input into administrative decision-making. It is self-evident that such an arrangement eloquently serves the objective of maximum inclusion.

The faceless chief executive of the MCGM is the Municipal Commissioner. Since MCGM has a popularly elected body and scores of significant leaders eager to stamp their presence in the city’s affairs, commissioners have generally backed off from competing on visibility. Mumbai, therefore, finds itself in a situation where the leaders are visible but don’t make municipal decisions and the commissioner is ‘invisible’ but makes the decisions. While some have found this fractured arrangement preposterous, there is no doubt that this eminently serves the ultimate Mumbai objective – inclusion.

Since urban development is a State subject, it is only appropriate that the State should play a vital role in the city. Hence the State retains the ultimate authority to take the final call in key matters. It appoints or transfers the commissioner and another half a dozen top officers deputed to serve in the MCGM. Its functional and financial allocations to the MCGM are final. Departments such as police, housing and transport that function in the city are under state control. The MCGM’s Development Plan is reviewed and finalised within the walls of Mantralaya. The State, as the big brother walks all over the MCGM, and rightly so, since it must help out the younger and weaker brother. Above all, this is in line with the objective of inclusion.

Since Mumbai heads the chart of significant cities, it is obvious that, in the spirit of inclusion, the Central Government will also have an important role to play. Its Defence Department looks after the cantonment and defence lands. The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) manages the Mumbai port and a largish land mass around the port. The Railways run their own spatial empire without much interference from others. Similarly, the Ministry of Aviation, through its Airport Authority, manages Mumbai’s airports and lands.

The unfettered inflow of men and women into Mumbai ensures that any infrastructure erected during the last decade falls short of the requirements in the next decade. Very old infrastructures occasionally exhibit signs of atrophy and need replacement. In the face of mounting infrastructure deficits, many more state and central organisations are required to unselfishly jump in to provide assistance to the struggling city. Thus in Mumbai we have the MMRDA (Mumbai Regional Development Authority), the MSRDC (Maharashtra Road Development Corporation) and the PWD (the Public Works Department) sharing the road network, flyovers, foot overbridges and footpaths for construction and maintenance, along with the MbPT, the Railways and the Cantonment Board. There is great comradery among these organisations. When something goes wrong with any one of ‘their’ infrastructure, misdemeanours are manoeuvred to get lost in the alleys of multiple organisations. Since Mumbaikars are enamoured of different sporting activities that are relentlessly beamed into homes – football, cricket, tennis, badminton, hockey, kabaddi and wrestling – Mumbai’s ‘infrastructure blame game’ adds another sport to that list. Even better, this game does not limit itself to two sides and has no single referee. This complicates fixing accountability. But sharing, as we would rightly understand, is not about accountability and fault finding; it is about doing things together – the inclusive process is itself the objective.

Futuristic planning in Mumbai is even more inclusive. The MCGM plans for areas where it is the Planning Authority. MMRDA looks after the BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex) and scattered chunks of areas within MCGM’s geographical limits. The MIDC oversees the SEEPZ and Marol areas. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) handles planning of slums and the Dharavi project. The Cantonment is the spatial master of its own area. MbPT was hugely keen for a long time to help out by independently planning the port area. This wish was granted to them in 2018. Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) and MSRDC also have altruistic credentials and handle certain parts of Mumbai independently. Recently, chunks of land falling under metro development have been carved out and handed over to MMRDA as special planning authority (SPA). It is true that while a plethora of SPAs in the city create complications of coordinated governance, there can be no doubt that this assists the core objective of greater inclusion.

There are several other committees that stand constituted in the city. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) perform key functions in the area of environment. We also have the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC), charged to work selflessly in the service of the heritage of the city. It is mandated to trouble owners of more than a thousand buildings that have been unfortunate to get listed on the Heritage list. Owners cannot touch buildings of their ownership without asking the Committee. Some time back, the Committee decided that it did not have enough buildings on the Heritage list to play with. So it recommended the addition of another thousand structures. These are under scrutiny for final addition by another Committee – the Heritage Review Committee. We also have a High-Rise Committee for policy on skyscrapers, a Monitoring Committee for textile mill lands, a STAC (Standing Technical Advisory Committee) for roads and a Cold Mix Committee for potholes. Recently, a new Commission has been constituted called the Mumbai Commission for Art, Music and Culture (MCAMC). It is too early to assess how inclusive this Commission would get.

Apart from the cited committees, assisted by several experts drawn from Mumbai’s citizenry, Mumbai’s several community groups and NGOs actively assist the city in solid waste management, education, environment and social services. This allows more and more people to offer aid and advice to vexed issues of governance.

We can see from the above that the oceanic city of Mumbai has an oceanic governance structure. It includes Ministries of Government of India, Departments of the State Government, several parastatals, many planning authorities, the ULB, several non-statutory committees, community groups and NGOs sharing the onerous burden of governance of a giga city. Many wise citizens have voiced their concern that this is intriguingly designed for a surfeit of confusion and a shortage of accountability. What they fail to appreciate is that the city’s top objective is to find good governance entirely marinated in the pot of inclusion. It is now for experts to figure out how this governance circle can be squared.

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Ramanath Jha

Ramanath Jha

Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...

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