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Is Mumbai's infrastructure only for the Gods?

September 13, 2012 16:07 IST

Why do Mumbai's civic authorities only ensure pothole-free roads only during the Ganapati season and not the year around, asks Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Make a guess. The seven cities and 23 municipal towns in Mumbai Metropolitan Region, including Mumbai, have been built and are being run by their respective civic bodies for whom?

The first choice would -- as it normally ought to be -- humans, the citizens who pay taxes and add to their GDPs through their productive capabilities. But you would be wrong.

The second shot would be -- don't be surprised -- Gods. In this context, the deity is Ganapati, the obstacle-remover who visits the places once a year to be worshipped and to give away his blessings in plenty.

Wonder why the second choice is right? Because, year upon year, the civic bodies stir out of their apathy and lethargy and bestow some attention to the roads and fill up the potholes so that the arrival and departure of the elephant-headed deity is smooth, literally so.

No one can decry that. After all, no one wants an incident where the huge idols lurch and create a situation and hurt devotees' sentiments. So much so that the civic fathers, the civic contractors and the civic officials make sure the roads are smoothened and earn their brownie points from Him.

Or why would the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai pinpoint 21,000 potholes this past Monday and attend to 17,868 on Tuesday. And why would they spot 21,464 potholes on Tuesday and attend to 18,621 the same day?

Or why would the civic fathers in Navi Mumbai -- the world's largest city being built from scratch -- rattle off numbers in their civic meetings and insist that the new city has 15,000 potholes than can endanger the deity's arrival?

Or why would Mira-Bhayander's corporation set aside Rs 2 crore for the specific purpose to rid the potholes on the routes He would be taking? Or, the citizens take to a gherao of the civic commissioner of Vasai-Virar, the brand new civic corporation in the metro region demanding pothole-free roads?

In Vasai-Virar, they demanded such roads "at least for the Ganapati festive season" which is very kind of the residents. Had they demanded smooth roads all through the year, perhaps that would be like asking for the moon!

There are several implications to this attitude of the citizens and the city fathers. One is that the citizenry does not expect any better than potholes till the start of the season and potholes through the years. Two, when pushed, larger budgets can be allocated and in the rush, no one would question their size because that is the annual cream-away time for the implementers.

What sticks in one' craw is that those who make a hue and cry on behalf of the people like us are not the people themselves but the politicians. These are the very politicians who support the Ganesh mandals and dig up the roads to set up pandals, even on newly dug up roads as has been the case in Thane, another Mumbai metro city.

Once the roads are dug up, and new ones are laid -- as was done in Thane at an expense of Rs 230 crore just prior to the monsoon -- the politician has his deals with the civic contractors encashed. Nothing else explains why roads, including new ones, withstand only half a monsoon. Specifications are not monitored, quality is never checked and lo and behold, the Lord arrives and temporarily, the potholes disappear.

Within days, they resurface -- what an odd word to use about potholes on what is expected to be a smooth surface -- and till a few bones break, a few new cases of spondylitis are treated, and every one forgets that the citizens too need a good road. It is as if only the gods deserve them, not us humans.

Perhaps, only when the Ganapati mandals decide to worship smaller idols and decide to carry them on palanquins on the sidewalks -- footpaths or pavements -- they too won't improve. But then, citizens being humans know that they are so used to stumbles because of poor condition, illegal occupation by hawkers, and open manholes even!

But then our gods like to be ferried on trucks, not palanquins. He does not know, one supposes, that more people walk and are inconvenienced and exposed to risks than car drivers who can grumble, curse and keep driving. The two-wheeler guys trip and topple and break a bone or two -- their own. All this, because, he does not know that there is a distinct class of citizenry who do not get the attention the potholes do.

It is because, it would appear, the common man does not count.

But the deity visits only once a year.

No small mercies here from the civic bodies and their constituents or even the God Himself.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator who takes the commoners' perspectives seriously.

Mahesh Vijapurkar