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Mumbai’s Shanghai Dream: What Ails the City?

Mumbai’s Shanghai Dream: What Ails the City?

TestFunda ,  10-Dec-08

The Stakeholders:

The citizens of Mumbai and the rest of the country


·         A short while after coming to power, the Vilasrao Deshmukh government began harping about its plans to make Mumbai a “world-class city” like Shanghai.

·         But very soon the plans got caught up in the usual problems that Mumbai faces – uncontrolled migration, slums, appalling infrastructure and political pressure.  

·         Can Mumbai ever become a Shanghai? Should it even aim to do so, or should it be content with developing the existing infrastructure and confronting its other problems?

Key points:

·         Migration of unskilled workers from all parts of the country into Mumbai in search of a livelihood has been the city’s biggest problem. Many of the other issues the city faces can trace their roots to this problem.

·         The uncontrolled migrations have also put a severe strain on the infrastructure of the city. Housing and transport are the two sectors that have been hit the hardest.

·         A sizeable number of these migrants end up on the pavements or in the slums that dot the city. The number of slums in the city has risen dramatically over the years. A lot has been said about relocating slum-dwellers to other parts but precious little has been done, mainly due to political pressures.

·         While many of the slum-dwellers are seekers of legitimate means of earning their livelihood, it is believed that the slums also harbor anti-social elements and illegal migrants from neighbouring countries. This could be a threat to the security of the nation and needs to be taken seriously.

·         Mumbai depends heavily on its local railway network and roadways for transportation. These facilities have been stretched to the maximum due to the rapidly rising population of the city.

·         The roads in many places are riddled with potholes and are, in general, in a bad state. Also, the development projects of the government – which includes building flyovers and a metro railway for the city – are currently causing a lot of inconvenience to people who have to travel by road.

·         The city badly needs at least one more international airport to ease some of the pressure off the lone international airport currently at the city’s disposal.

·         Not enough attention is paid to environmental issues. The air quality in the city is dangerous and the Mithi River that flows through the city is in a pitiable state.

·         There is a lack of consensus as to whether the government is going about the development projects in the right way.

·         Recently, there have been violent protests organized by a regional party against migrants from North India. The repercussions of the agitation were felt in many parts of the country.

·         While the agitation was widely condemned by people, it also brought to the fore the wave of dissent flowing through some sections of people in the city.

·         The recent terror attacks, which held the city hostage for over three days, have also raised serious concerns over the security of the city.

·         In the past, the city has seen hostile sectarian violence and serial bomb blasts in local trains and business establishments. The security situation in the city does not exactly inspire confidence.

·         Should there be a change in the way the city is governed? Should there be a CEO exclusively for the city? These are some of the questions being raised on account of the various problems the city is confronting. 

How Mumbai can become a global city

·         Get the infrastructure back on its feet. Improve roads, transportation systems and drainage systems.

·         Speed up public sector projects like the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), which includes road works, introduction of new buses and improved trains.

·         Focus on Public-Private Partnership projects such as the Mumbai Metro and the setting up of the second international airport near Navi Mumbai.

·         Speedup slum rehabilitation programs.

·         Improve hygiene; improve air quality by enforcing the use of cleaner-burning fuels and phasing out outdated taxis and trucks.

·         Upgrade security systems. The city needs a better-trained police force.

·         Focus on conserving the environment. Plant more trees and have more parks and green spots in the city.

Why Mumbai’s Shanghai dreams may be unrealistic

·         The political structures in the two countries are very different. China bulldozes its way through projects in public interest with scant regard for public opinion. In India, development projects are constantly stalled by well-organized public demonstrations or are caught in vote-bank politics.

·         Mumbai wages a constant war against the common evils of unplanned urbanization – pollution, encroachment and traffic congestion.

·         The slums that have cropped up all over Mumbai are a major hindrance to development. It is very difficult to relocate slum dwellers because of the support they enjoy from political parties who view them as vote banks.

·         To free up precious land required for development projects, the Vilasrao Deshmukh government started razing shanties that had come up after 1995. This rendered many people homeless and was viewed by the Central government as contrary to its pro-poor image. The demolition drive was stopped and only slums that came up after 2000 were allowed to be demolished.

·         It is not just the housing or the transport system in Mumbai that is being stretched. The ancient drainage system also acts up every monsoon, leaving large parts of the city inundated.

·         Mumbai has been allowed to develop haphazardly. It is very difficult to reverse the process at this stage without resorting to some authoritarian behavior.

·         In recent years, Mumbai has shifted from being an industrial city to a city that provides service. But, it has not effectively managed to rehabilitate mill workers and their families.

·         The attitude of the citizens also makes a major difference to the way the two cities have developed. Mumbai has an appalling record in basics like hygiene when compared to Shanghai, or to any major city in the world.

More Links

·         Can Mumbai become Shanghai?

·         Should Mumbai be a City State?

Group Discussion Topics

1.       Should Mumbai be governed like a corporate, with a CEO in charge of affairs?


·         Mumbai needs a corporate pattern of governance with a CEO. This kind of government will be able to focus entirely on the city’s problems, rather than getting diverted by happenings in the rest of the state.

·         With the city being run like a corporate, the focus will be entirely on making it profitable. This will invariably ensure that every department performs efficiently.

·         To make the venture profitable, more money would be invested in development of infrastructure. This is one sector that really needs to improve if Mumbai wants to compete with other cities around the globe.

·         Such a government will be more accountable, since the parameter to gauge their success will purely be their performance.

·         Since the appointment of the officers and CEO will be non-political, they can also be taken to task in case of non-performance, without worrying about any political or popular repercussions.  

·         Mumbai can choose to invest a large portion of the annual tax collected from its citizens into development projects that benefit the city.

·         Chief Ministers are not generally from Mumbai. They are usually from other parts of Maharashtra, where they have a sizeable vote bank to answer to. So, they tend to focus on developing the regions they hail from, ignoring Mumbai.

·         Given its rather cosmopolitan nature, Mumbai cannot be considered part of any state. It belongs as much to the rest of the country as it does to the state of Maharashtra. It needs to be governed separately.


·         Mumbai’s isolation from Maharashtra will not be acceptable to the rest of the state. In the 1950s a proposal had come up to anoint Mumbai as an autonomous city-state. But the Samyukta Maharashtra movement opposed this, even in the face of violent police intervention, and Mumbai was declared the capital of Maharashtra.  

·         Like for the rest of India, Mumbai is vitally important to the state of Maharashtra. Maharashtra will find it very difficult to establish another business hub to fill the void left behind by Mumbai.

·         The CEO will be a non-political appointment, which means that the citizens of Mumbai will have no say in the appointment of the person in charge of governing the city.

·         If the CEO is given a free hand to run the city, there is every possibility that he will resort to authoritarian rule to achieve his targets. This will be akin to a China-like state of affairs, where projects in “public interest” are carried out without taking into account the feelings of the public.

·         If, on the other hand, the CEO’s authority is limited, he will not be any different from the many Chief Ministers who have had to abandon development projects due to political pressure.

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