After 26/7

Mumbai needs to grapple with real questions

Published: Friday 30 September 2005

-- after rains, it is pouring committees, commissions and fact-finding teams in Mumbai: the Mithi River Development and Protection Agency, an eight member fact-finding team; a team lead by Pune-based Central Water and Power Research Station (cwprs), another three member fact-finding committee; the Maharashtra Disaster Management Authority. These committees have almost similar terms of reference, and no teeth -- they "do not have to fix responsibility".

The hearts of Mumbai's civil society are also bleeding. Hence some stalwarts have set up a Concerned Citizens' Commission "to enquire into the Mumbai floods... [through] a series of public hearings and depositions...". While launching this Commission, when some journalists questioned why a separate process was being initiated, a panelist replied, "People have lost faith in government machinery and we need to speak to them personally... but government officers are also welcome to depose before the Commission that will print testimonies in four different languages." But what after the report? asked another journalist. This reply came more as an afterthought: "We can use the report as a solid document if we approach the high court. And maybe after finishing the exercise, 10 different ways come in front of us, which we do not know of at present".

Mumbai's mayanagri also filed a public interest litigation (pil) in the Bombay High Court (hc) seeking to identify the causes behind flooding, the authorities responsible for it and steps needed to avoid another July 26. Shahrukh Khan swept streets near his houses in Bandra, with cameras rolling. Preity Zinta even got some dustbins installed; these were stolen the very next morning. Kirit Somaiya, a local bjp leader, was so perturbed about the tragedy that he filed another pil in the hc alleging "utter negligence" on the part of the authorities.

Enough of skirting real questions. Why was no action taken on earlier reports warning of such a disaster? Why is the Floor Space Index price in Mumbai raised faster than vegetable prices? Why do all waste dumping sites function in utter violation of the 1991 coastal regulation zone rules? Why, despite crores of investment, does untreated sewage continue to flow into the sea? Why does the latest draft regional plan endorse dumping waste in the wetlands and consider saltpans outside wetlands?

It is time to shun further breast-beating. Mumbai must reinvent itself. Or sink in its own iniquities.

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