Saturday, 18 November 2006


Recurring floods:
Central Mumbai
(On the top left
are the slums
taht too are flooded.)

A Tip of the Iceberg

by Remigius de Souza


CALL THIS CITY Bombay (former island city) or Mumbai (now a metropolitan city), the dichotomy remains. While speaking and writing in Marathi it has always been Mumbai, while in English, ‘Bombay’, even before the British left. So also there has been south-north divide; south of island city being the seat of power. Now north is extended beyond the island city that includes ‘suburbs’ and ‘extended suburbs’. There have been several flood- prone areas in the north of island city for more than five decades, whatever may be the reasons; negligence could be one of them. The divide between the First World and the Third world (and the Fourth World of tribal communities living in the nearby districts of Thane and Raigad) too continues. Media’s attention during deluge, of course, was Mumbai / Bombay; the woes of slums in the city and Raigad District were scantly noticed.

High, very high, highest-in-a-day rainfalls, likewise, cyclones, earthquakes, typhoons, are common natural phenomena. Floods causing damage to lives and property are mostly due to human folly, whether at countryside or in mega-cities. People learn, or should learn, their lessons over a period of time.

Mumbai has been witnessing for last few decades phenomenal rise in almost every aspect of city life: Stock Exchange Index, population, pollution, vehicles, traffic jams, scams… to name a few, so also the increasing slum dwellers and hawkers that are branded illegal though they struggle to earn their daily bread and to survive with dignity, in the wave (or Tsunami?) of development. These are symptoms of a sick society at large.

Boast about Mumbai’s ten million people! Thankfully it is not going to be a global city in the near future, perhaps never. Mumbai is only a fashionable product. The city picks up technologies for their cosmetic use… with disregard for possible fallout. The experts, specialists, planners, architects, builders, policymakers, legislators, administrators, of Mumbai thrive on foreign collaborations – ideas, aids, funds, loans… and flattery by the foreigners – institutes or individuals – who have vested interest in trade, market and profit. Almost in every field of city-life they take on ‘Bollywood Effect’ to please or fool themselves and the citizens, or for the self-interest.

A city’s services, for example, have to stand the test for two to three hundred years and the trial by any calamity – one in hundred possibilities. City can’t be a product by a single visionary genius, or by authorities, or by fancy of a politician. City is not a container made in a factory or in a boardroom. It is a work of collective creativity of people over centuries.


MOTHER NATURE unravelled some of the chapters of sordid past and present of Mumbai / Bombay by the deluge of 26th July 2005. The first rape of Mother Earth took place when the British founded Bombay; they destroyed the islands and hills, bulldozed the lakes, wetlands and creeks, and reclaimed the sea, which drowned some coastal areas in Konkan. Since then the land grabbing has continued unabated with religious fervour till this day. Mumbai otherwise could have been the Oriental Venice, so to say. The City of Venice, built upon 137 islands, too, gets flooded and is sinking in the sea. The second assault came when the hills of nearby Raigad District were deforested to build the city. The gods in the religions, scriptures and epics of the world may assume human traits, but Mother Nature is indifferent to the entire human species, not alone to the underprivileged but even to the so-called superior, developed societies. Yet there are millions of people choose to live in harmony with nature.

All human habitats are vulnerable to ‘calamities’ caused by human nature or Mother Nature. In the age of democracy if the citizens give away their responsibilities, therefore, their rights, to the so-called authority of politicians, experts, policymakers, authorities, without making them answerable, without subjecting them to public scrutiny, then the citizens have to face consequences and bear the responsibility; their ignorance, illiteracy or wealth/ poverty cannot be an excuse, or they face annihilation. This must be happening all over the world. It is time to get educated in the rights and responsibilities, but most urgent are ‘civic sense’ and ‘hygiene’ for everyone, from the presidents and prime ministers to a pauper on a street, throughout the world, without exception. These would cover issues from deadly nuclear power, to dumping toxic wastes, to dumping food in the garbage, to air - land - water.

Sixteen years ago, on 24th July 1989, there was very heavy rainfall that caused equally devastating floods all over Raigad District. Mumbai also was flooded then. Even that time the authorities were slow to reach the affected areas of Raigad District; the people helped themselves.

This time there were unusual floods also in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. This is a clear indication of more and continued deforestation south of Raigad District. When water in the Koyana dam reached danger-level, the authorities were caught napping. In sixteen years they did not learn their lessons. Where and how did the policies, physical–economic–social planning and implementation fail? Can the built environment compensate the destruction of natural environment, collapse of ecology at national, regional and micro level for development? While taking remedial measures for Mumbai’s sickness, the city cannot be isolated from the region/s.


URBANIZATION IS RAPIDLY ‘SWELLING’ IN INDIA. Its not ‘growing’ as popularly said. Growing implies healthy natural organic process. Swelling is a malady, a sickness. Like floods, slums, etc. this is one of the national indicators, visible, loud and clear than any official statistics or proclamations. On 26/7 the services, systems, regulators, health, safety, civic sense… and justice failed resulting into a calamity. These indicators are visible at several places during several events – natural or manmade. These maladies are symptoms of sick society, inevitably of the nation.

City is a symbol of centralised power throughout the ages throughout the world. Some call it a magnet to hide the fact. A megalopolis wields immense power by its invisible tentacles over the regions, far and wide, even across the borders of sovereign state, beyond the oceans and continents. What is not perceived is how the metropolitan cities devour the resources of the region/s and the nation. It is even beyond the control of so-called metropolitan/urban region development authorities.

Some prominent citizens may harp on the taxes paid by Mumbai to the nation, but what is the size of ‘black money’ that circulates in the parallel economy, who generates it and who is accountable? How much energy does Mumbai consume and what is its ratio to the State or National energy consumption? Some talk of appointing CEO, or to appoint a CM who is local citizen (ninety percent of Mumbai’s citizens are migrants), or to block the entry of slum-dwellers to the city, or to make Mumbai an independent state, etc. These are only ‘curative’ measures. This is how some influential citizens use their credibility to consolidate the centralised power. What is needed is ‘corrective measures’ with ‘care’, and rigorous investigation by filed work with participation of the local citizens.

Mumbai is beyond a manageable size for its civic authorities and the government. In fact Mumbai is spilling over in Vasai-Virar area, in Thane and Kalyan-Dombivali cities, besides Navi Mumabi; it’s a vast agglomeration, though separated by boundaries. Eventually all oversize institutions fail.

To speak only about Mumbai for a while, the immediate corrective measure is to ‘decentralize’ the power of the City of Mumbai. The first vital measure is to separate Mumbai in three municipal corporations: 1- the island city, 2- the former suburbs and 3- the former extended suburbs. Name them whatever – Mumbai, Mumbapuri and Mumbai Nagari.

The second vital measure is to ‘shift the capital of Maharashtra State to some interior area such as, Beed, Parbhani, Jalgaon, Sangali etc. but not at any major city like Pune or Nagpur. The cash-stripped Maharashtra Government could rent or sell the existing Assembly hall and Secretariat buildings to multinational / Desi corporations instead of selling the city’s open spaces, to make money. In any case we have been dividing the states, districts, even villages, and building new capitals.

To divide the City of Mumbai into three separate corporations is a ‘corrective action’; and to shift the capital of the state, in the words of Patrick Geddes, is a ‘painless surgery’.

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Click below for "Flood Fraud" in Mumbai:
Late News (14.01.2007)

Remigius de Souza
(Published in Janata, Mumbai)
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

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