Free Press Journal

FPJ-IMC forum: Mumbai stalwarts discuss ways to make city cleaner, less congested

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Photo by BL SONI

Maximum City has been facing infra woes for many years now…

The economic worth of Mumbai is often mentioned in the same breath as its low ranking on parameters of infrastructure and quality of life. The panel discussion hosted jointly by the Free Press Journal and the Indian Merchants Chamber (with Firstpost.com as digital partner) focused on bringing out the facts — both in terms of action initiated and action required for a cleaner and less congested city. The keynote address was delivered by Lalit Kanodia, IMC President. Panelists for the discussion were Ajoy Mehta, Municipal Commissioner, MCGM; Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist, Aditya Birla group; Niranjan Hiranandani, Founder and Head of the Hiranandani Group of Companies and Shishir Joshi, CEO, Mumbai First. The event was moderated by R N Bhaskar, Consulting Editor, FPJ with editorial support from Pankaj Joshi.

Lalit Kanodia: Good evening. I think I will make a few brief points about Mumbai. This is a city blessed with a sea front of 149 km, beaches of 16 km, three lakes, four rivers, surrounded by hills with mangroves of 70 square km and eight forts.


What are the problems that I as a layman think we have? Very few open spaces, one of the highest population densities worldwide, extremely high cost of real estate, rampant encroachments including roads are some.

Dixit, the director general of Police said that only 30 per cent of the road can be used and 70 per cent is under encroachment.” Then comes cleanliness and hygiene. The first time I went to Singapore, 1963, it was as good or as bad as Bombay and today it’s the cleanest city in the world. India also has Surat and Indore, remarkably clean cities. Rest assured India can do it.

Lalit Kanodia President, IMC

We already know that huge infrastructure investments are in process, but we need better connectivity with the mainland. For Mumbai Island to expand into mainland India, we should plan on a Golden Triangle of Mumbai, Pune and Nashik.

Then there is the discharge of untreated sewage into the sea and rivers, which is 50 per cent of total sewage generated. None of us can go and swim in the sea because of that. On slums, we don’t need any further description. If you compare Manhattan, Hong Kong, London and Mumbai, this is the densest among all. In terms of square km of open space per person, Manhattan has 26 square; London is 31.68; and Mumbai has 1.58. If we look at population, over a period of time, populations in large cities have not expanded. Mumbai, in contrast, had 29 lakh in 1950 and today it is 125 lakh. How do we control this?

Now the good news. First, the Bombay Port Trust plan to release 900 acres of land, which is a Godsend and should be capitalised on. Then the question of funds. As per the Municipal Commissioner, Ajoy Mehta, the BMC has Rs 60,000 crore in the bank.

On the infrastructure side, we have built the Bandra-Worli Sea Link at Rs 1,600 crore. The third phase of Metro is being planned with the investment of Rs 23,000 crore from Colaba to Seepz. The Coastal Road plan spans 29 kilometres with outlay of Rs 15,000 crore. Mumbai is planning on investing Rs 38,000 crore just on these two projects. Then we have the planned Trans Harbour Link of 22 kilometres at the cost of Rs 18,000 crore. So, huge investments are going into the infrastructure, but I think we need to build three bridges or tunnels to the mainland.

What else can we learn? We need better connectivity with the mainland and another thing is that Mumbai must expand into mainland India. We should plan on a Golden Triangle of Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. Then we need to privatise municipal services, like we have done with the airports. Then to improve public transport. There are 10 deaths everyday on our local trains. We have to increase the speed of execution, something which I think India needs to learn urgently. The Empire State Building, till recently the tallest building in the world was erected in 14 months, and this was in 1931. Not today’s technology, not today’s equipment, but it shows what can be done.

Photo by BL SONI

FPJ:  Thank you Dr. Kanodia. What I am going to do is ask each of the panelists to speak for five to seven minutes, after which I would initiate questions and then throw open the session for questions to the audience. Since the first creator of a township construction in the city was Niranjan Hiranandani, he would be the ideal speaker to talk about what Bombay could be, how to re-imagine.

Niranjan Hiranandani: Thank you sir. I am indeed very honoured to be here today to speak on Mumbai, the city which has made me everything that I am. Let me speak quickly about five happy things that have happened in the recent past. First of all, the Chief Minister plans up 170 kilometres of metro rail. The suburban railway line (Western , Central and Harbour) put together, is 170 kilometres  and against that, all the metro phases planned in the next seven years aggregate 170 kilometres. You effectively double the railway track for Mumbai in the next seven years.

Second is the cross harbour bridge mentioned by Kanodia that is pending since 45 years. At the time of conception its budget was only Rs 100 crore and now it is Rs 16,000 crore, but at least it is now going to happen.

The third, is the coastal road project for Mumbai, the personal passion of the Commissioner. This will be like a ring road and should make a paradigm shift to the entire western suburbs as far as that is concerned. Then is the Navi Mumbai airport, expected to be completed in the next two years.

Niranjan Hiranandani Founder, Hiranandani Group of Companies

We have Rs 1, 70,000 crore being spent on urban infrastructure in the next five years, more than the total investment by governments in the last 70 years put together. 70 per cent of all this is already arranged to be funded by the Japanese and various commitments done by the state government and the central government agency.

Last is the railway enhancement. Thanks to Suresh Prabhu, we are going to get more railway lines happening to Mumbai. We have a high speed corridor coming from VT to Panvel via the Palm Beach road and then from a railway passenger service from Panvel to Karjat, where just now you have a freight corridor. Likewise, the express corridor in the western side, which is also being put up by the railways.

We have Rs 1, 70,000 crore of urban infrastructure, which happens to be more than the total investment by governments in the last 70 years put together, being spent in the next five years. About 70 per cent of all this is already arranged to be funded by the Japanese and various commitments done by the state government and the central government agency.

So for Mumbai, the transport and communications is definitely going to improve. We need to congratulate the state government, and we have to congratulate the municipal commissioner. There is one specific contribution done by Ajoy Mehta which I think needs to be highlighted – a proposal to make a canal for the purpose of fishing, right up to the fishing village and a contiguous 300 acre garden at Nariman Point. This will be the largest increase of green space ever in the history of Mumbai.

All in all, there is definitely action from the authorities. One thing missing, related to my field of activity, is affordable housing taking off. Five lakh houses are needed for the city of Mumbai, there is a challenge but once the development plan proposed by the Commissioner is approved, hopefully in six months, there will be enough place available for these houses to be built.

The sewage treatment point raised by Dr. Kanodia is of course relevant, and with that the recycling of water. However, kudos to the Municipal Commissioner, for the proposed infra investment, which will be a fantastic opportunity to make decongestion and ease of living in the city of Mumbai. Thanks very much.

FPJ:  Thank you, Niranjan. Can I now request our second panelist, Shishir Joshi, who looks after Mumbai’s invest through Mumbai First?

Shishir Joshi:  I am not going to present as rosy a picture as Niranjan. We must live in reality. Mumbai has been an island city, unfortunately some still live in islands. So many among us live in one part of Mumbai, do not realise what is happening in other side of the city at all. Many on the southern side travel to the suburbs only when they take a trip abroad, which is seen as a part of suburban challenges and realities.

Mumbai was at one point the Urbs Prima in India– India’s best city, also Asia’s best, roads paved with gold. This image has taken a beating in today’s times. Rather than getting to tangible things like decongestion, which are policy areas, I would look at the image aspect, aspects like open spaces and affordable housing. The Government is doing a lot but is affordable housing, really affordable?

Also, the hitherto open spaces have become the living rooms, or often the bedrooms of so many people of Mumbai. When we start looking around in terms of beautification, all we talk of as decent spaces are just those in the vicinity, no more. For even those, if spaces do not have open defecations, you talk about it as fantastic open spaces. But when compared globally, are these really good open spaces? Does a city like Mumbai not deserve good open spaces?

Shishir Joshi CEO, Mumbai First

Somewhere we feel a huge trust deficit between citizens and governance. Can we start bridging the trust deficit? Also there are 17-18 agencies running the city but very often we talk of a road and multiple agencies saying this road doesn’t belong to me, but to someone else.

 

Third point we talk about is global cities, where Mumbai is among the top 19 global cities. Global cities have a quality of life – we need to talk on that. These points are actionable areas.

Somewhere at a city level we feel a huge trust deficit that exists between citizens and governance. When we see action or projects being taken up, we are not sure that the project will really materialise. It is personality-driven initiatives we see right now – the moment an officer leaves, we know that the project is going to be a question mark again. Can we start bridging the trust deficit?

Another issue is governance, which Mumbai First has been talking of. All of us are aware that there are 17-18 agencies running the city but very often we talk of a road and multiple agencies saying this road doesn’t belong to me, but to someone else. It is high time that Mumbai city’s governance challenges need to be resolved. There was an optimistic conversation about a CEO for Mumbai, but it is possible and imperative to align all agencies, get them talking internally and looking at Mumbai city as a whole. Even the development plan – one of the most fantastic documents and one we look forward to being implemented – gets mixed up.

The last part is the role that people like you and me play. Civil society is still much disorganised, all working in silos. Verticals which talk about water management talk in their own manner, verticals which talk about road and sanitation talk in their own manner. We need to start talking together in one voice to be taken seriously and we need to start decongesting our mind sets to be able to decongest the city.

FPJ: Thank you, Shishir. Can I now request Ajoy Mehta to talk to us about Mumbai?

Ajoy Mehta:  I will limit myself to the subject of cleaner and less congested Mumbai, just putting facts on the ground. Perceptions are up to you. On cleaner Mumbai, we generate about 8,000 tonnes of garbage every day, and an additional 2,000 tonnes of debris coming from new developments. Of 8,000 tonnes, 3,000 tonnes is scientifically treated, the rest goes into landfill which is located at three different places. Concerning sewage side, we supply 3,700 million litres of water daily and 2,800 million litres goes untreated into the sea. In terms of infrastructure, 2,200 trucks pick up daily garbage, with 32,000-35,000 people on the roads cleaning up the city. We manage and operate 30,000 toilets, having over one lakh seats. These are the facts of cleaner Mumbai.

Ajoy Mehta Municipal Commissioner, MCGM

On waste-to-energy, the fact is that energy generated from the waste will not pay for everything else. Beyond the capex itself, Mumbai’s waste has typical problems. It is not segregated and waste in monsoon months is dripping wet. Key calorific components – paper and plastic –are generally removed by scavengers, so what reaches is has very low calorific value.

Now for decongestion. Mumbai area is about 476 square kilometres, where just about 40 per cent is habitable. Rest is under roads (16 per cent), or no-go areas like CRZ, mangroves etc. Today’s population is 12.44 million, which is expected to be 12.79 million in 2021 and by 2034, the population shall drop to 11.44 million, not because we have done some great wonders with family planning but due to some other reason. We discuss that later.

FPJ: That was very critical. Now, Ajit Ranade will give his views on Mumbai.

Ajit Ranade:  Thank you, Bhaskar. I think we know the story of Jayadratha in Mahabharata who had Shiva’s blessing that he will not be defeated or killed by the Pandavas on the 13th day. So just before sunset, Krishna put the Sudarshan chakra in front of the sun and created a solar eclipse. In that illusion Jayadratha came out and exposed himself before Arjuna. Then Krishna took it out and said to Arjuna, this is the sun that is Jayadratha.

The point I am making is with reference to you and Anil Sardana of Tata Power, not to kill but work together. Mumbai is perhaps the only city with a garbage dump within a kilometre of a power plant (Tata Power). Technology for conversion of garbage to a fuel, usable by thermal energy plants, has been available for 20 years. Technology which does not need wet and dry garbage separation is available since 15 years.

Tata Power has been doing pilot projects – so let this union happen, let us make this city the example for generation of electricity from garbage. The calculation is that this could relate to 200 MW, which could reduce power shortages and generate revenues of Rs 1,000 crore. These can be used to pay off the workers in collection and transport. Why is this not happening?

Second point is that free shuttles be used for decongestion. At Bandra West, one example, people line up for rickshaw rides. A free shuttle or hop on, hop off or mini BEST bus which goes around the circular route nonstop can de-congest the station area. Again, auto drivers would be impacted but there can be money found to take care of the losses of livelihood, with a net gain to society.

Ajit Ranade Chief Economist, Aditya Birla group

Places where people line up outside stations for rickshaw rides, there should be a free shuttle or hop on, hop off or mini BEST bus going nonstop on a circular route that can decongest the station area.

 

Third is parking. Incidentally, since the past year or two, lots of cab drivers now refuse to break the traffic line, for fear of the camera. This shows a mind-set shift. For parking we can also use the same technology. Parking is a big problem, but this is doable. Just take a picture, date, time stamp by GPS, you know it’s a parking violation, you send him a notice for fine payment.

Fourth point is starting the system of feed-in tariffs, I think Delhi has already started that, which will get people to happily invest in solar electricity and metres. I don’t know if it’s under BMC, but I am asking you to coordinate that.

Some interesting tit-bits – the Commissioner said he has Rs 60,000 crore of cash, do you know that BMC is the only Indian municipality which actually pays pension to its retired employees, there is no other municipality that does that in India. Its annual budget is Rs 37,000 crore which is more than probably 15 states of India, and yet there is no money left for infrastructure projects. We talk of Rs 56,000 crore for the sea project, the trans-harbour link that money comes from rest of India. They would say what is so great about Mumbai, why should our tax money go to build infrastructure in Mumbai? Hence, some innovative financing like bonds etc is needed. I will stop there. Thank you.

FPJ: Thank you very much Ajit. Now for questions. First, why is waste-to-energy not taking off? Second, there is a lot of talk about open defecation on the one hand and authority saying, no, there is no open defecation on the other hand. Can you clarify those two points?

Ajoy Mehta: On the issue of waste-to-energy, it is a slightly wrong impression that people have. That the energy that you generate from the waste will pay for everything else. It just doesn’t. Let us be very candid about that.

Beyond the capex itself, Mumbai’s waste has typical problems. First, it is not segregated. Secondly, waste in the three months of rain is dripping wet. Third, the key components in the waste – paper and plastic –which can generate energy are generally removed by the scavengers, so what reaches is has very low-calorific value.

That said, we are looking at two things. First is bio-reactions, to convert this into gas and then the compost goes off to methane. We have put a small gas engine in Kanjur. In Deonar, we are looking at waste-to-energy, setting up a plant with capex of around Rs 1,000 crore. Tenders are out since six months and hopefully in next three months this should be closed. We have said we are technology neutral on the tenders, Swedish or Israeli, segregation or non-segregation. Just bring the technology and deliver on cost and performance parameters. On the issue of periodic fires, we have totally locked the place, installed CCTV cameras. So over the past year no fires have broken out.

There is nothing called zero garbage, the key is at what level it is treated. We have created around 10 segregation centres in the city, and we are now saying that if you have a built up area more than 20,000 square metres, or you generate more than 100 kilos of garbage every day, you shall process it within your premises. On the debris side, we are putting up waste-to-building-material type of plants to create value for waste, so that it does not end up on the roads or in mangroves.

And as far as waste water is concerned, the sewage treatment plant tenders are out. We have already started work at Colaba and six more are being set up, so that 2,700 million litres of water, after being treated will be re-pumped back into the city for non-potable purposes. Only during rains will it go into the sea.

Photo by BL SONI

On defecation, Government of India says first and foremost identify the spots where you have open defecation. Mumbai has about 118 such spots. Next step was to provide toilets, which is now done. Mumbai has been declared as the only megacity to have toilets available. Third was to get people to use the toilets, for which we have recruited Clean-up Marshalls. If we still find people defecating outside, they will be fined. In some cities, dogs are let behind such people, but in Mumbai we don’t follow that policy. Media people show us pictures, we tell them take pictures from the front so the face is captured.

Now the parking issue, which is huge. We can handle this in two ways. First, like a typical bureaucrat, create a new layer or a parking authority. Action-wise, first is to raise parking fees and penalties in a big way, in spite of the resentment. Second is to increase parking availability via innovations. In the new DCR, which we understand has been sent to the Government, we have provided very high parking requirements. Also, housing societies with parking space which empties out in the morning to evening time, can be a parking option. With the 5,000 cameras in place across the city, now we need to get standardised licence plates. Such administrative steps need a full-fledged parking authority. Thirdly, like there is an app for estimating travel time and traffic on the route, we are working on an app which tells you whether a parking space is available at your destination. If not, it may make sense to adopt other means of transport.

FPJ: Niranjan, on the aim of being clutter free as possible, what are you doing with your new projects?

Niranjan Hiranandani: First, we have widened the roads. When we built Powai we did 60-feet wide roads and thought they were too wide. Today in Thane we have 40-metre roads, and already we find them crowded. Today, a one bedroom apartment has two cars and the two bedroom apartment has four cars and the four bedroom apartment had six cars including the servants. It is extremely difficult to cater to Mumbai and more mass transport has to be the answer, complemented by the services like Uber and Ola. For the hop on hop off free service, we could provide it privately but when you are talking of a suburb the Municipality must play a role.

Shishir Joshi: We are also trying that out, with 25 buses that have been allotted now and from two locations from the western side and two locations from the eastern side which start at Borivli, Kandivli and Andheri to BKC. We are aiming for the Uber user crowd and it will be priced competitively, because those paying for about Rs 600 for an Uber but they can pay about Rs100 rupees here. They will be timed in such a way that let’s say from 7. 45 to 8. 30 you have one bus every 10 minutes, so you don’t really need to go in for any other mode.