A couple of weeks back I spent a day in Navi Mumbai with a friend. Every time I go there I am elated by what I see there – a great city in the making. But I am also saddened. Is the only hope of urban India to build new cities? Are today’s cities doomed?
For those not familiar with it, Navi Mumbai is a 344 sq. km area on the mainland next to Mumbai. It was developed with the objective of decongesting Mumbai, which was (and still is) the land of promise in India – a cross between LA and New York with its Bollywood and Dalal Street. Unfortunately, it is a strip of land largely surrounded by the sea and its growing population had no room to expand.
CIDCO (‘we make cities’), the organization that was entrusted with the task of developing Navi Mumbai has done an all around fantastic job. It not only planned and developed the land, it also undertook much of the housing construction there, when no builders thought it would be worth their while. CIDCO continues to plan and develop and run civic services in Navi Mumbai. The results are fantastic and are noteworthy in three seminal ways.
One, Navi Mumbai is a planned city. It is laid out with what I am sure is a Master Plan behind it. It reminds one of the Chandigarh in my school days with numbered sectors and roads intersecting at right angles. Two, the infrastructure is remarkably good – roads, bridges, rail, optic fiber…it’s all there and well maintained. The administration actually runs a surplus and at this time the sale of land must be so profitable for it that investing in very good infrastructure is feasible.
But the most visible difference between Navi Mumbai and Mumbai itself is the almost complete absence of illegal construction and slums. Enforcement of property rights is complete. And that is what is amazing.
I see a great future for Navi Mumbai. There are big corporates like Reliance that are making big bets on Navi Mumbai. I think that is good for Navi Mumbai and for Mumbai itself. Mumbai can’t handle its urban crisis itself, so a helping hand from a satellite city should be welcome.
Cities like Mumbai and Bangalore are crumbling under the pressure of rapid growth. But growth is really a handy excuse. Its not like you couldn’t see it coming. Its just that it was nobody’s problem. Unfortunately, urban development is a long cycle endeavor. Developing urban infrastructure with foresight is a waste of time for an elected government. Its benefits are not seen by the electorate in time for the next elections. On the other hand urban development is a most lucrative opportunity for corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Planned development that benefits future administrations versus builder driven development that lines ones pockets today – the choice is easy. Even if one is an honest administrator, doing the right thing will require you to fight so many vested interests, why not let sleeping dogs lie?
Which is what saddens me. Is the difference between Navi Mumbai’s rise and Mumbai’s meltdown a matter of new versus old? Or is it the difference between governance by an elected government and a state corporation (CIDCO)? Either way, the odds are stacked against today’s Indian metros. We need strong leaders and able adminstrators. And citizens who care.
What you say is very relevant and pertinent. Any ideas on what can be done from a citizens perspective?
Also, Is there any particular reason as to why you blogs are primarily India focussed as against China focussed? I would think China is also a key factor in the ‘flat world’ concept..
As much as Mumbai has problems, those very problems make it a land of opportunity. Traffic (or commuting) is a big problem. People with disposable incomes commute by hanging to rusty trains. People can pay. They want a solution. Those who can find it will create value and make money. Ditto with affordable housing. And so with other problems.
Renew Mumbai? Is it practical? Satellite city option is like setting up a special court to deal with a problem. It shows lack of confidence in the system. Only time will tell if it helps solve the problem sooner. Navi Mumbai could, at best, postpone Mumbai’s problems. It faces the ‘old-truck’ problem that a friend told me about. Current owners do not recycle their trucks. They sell it. So old-trucks continue to ply. Problems move – either physically or in time.
The problem of Mumbai is not unique in South Asia. Almost all the big South Asian metropolitan cities have more or less the same problem like Mumbai. For some cities, the condition is even worse than Mumbai.
(I tried to put the address of my website about South Asian Business under Know More Media network, bug each time it gave invalid error.)
Happy to stumble across your blog and find your very first entry abt New Bombay – where I happen to live.
What you have observed is correct – we are a better planned city in many respects. A cursory look at New Bombay’s railway stations (clean, well maintained, no food stalls on platforms, office complex in the space above) shows that some vision went into the master plan of this satellite city.
However, as New Bombay falls in district Thane residents do face many quality of life issues. For example, unlike Mumbai we face 2 hours of load shedding every morning (this is since the last 6 months).
We pay an ‘entry tax’ or toll to drive in to Mumbai every day. Because technically we reside outside Mumbai city limits. Which would be OK if the road bridge were maintained in top condition. It is not.
The railway connectivity of Harbour line to town is very sad – a train every 15 minutes. The link between Vashi and Thane is operational but trains run on that route only 3 times a day.
So somewhere this satellite city is getting second class citizen status. And that can’t be a good thing!
Also, the development coming up on Palm Beach Road – the so called ‘Marine Drive’ of New Bombay is completely unplanned and haphazard. Massive apartment complexes have come up without proper roads being built. No concept of sectors or public spaces like gardens. It’s greedy builders all the way.
Great to learn abt ur new venture. Say hi to Guns fr me.
Sitting in Chennai and reading this, you guys make us jealous 😉 Well i think your points are valid. We need well planned cities to move into. Going by the government’s statistics, by 2050, nearly 40% of the Indian population [approx 60 Crores] will live in the cities.
My problem is the speed at which these things happen in India. Last time when i was in mumbai, couple of weeks ago, it’s hell. The business may be swift, the roads, traffic is pathetic in the commercial capital of this country.
Let’s hope the government builds more satellite cities across India, there are people living this side of Vindyas yaar :)))))
I agree that planning Navi Mumbai was well intentioned but somewhere down the line, things have gotten fuzzy. I lived in Navi Mumbai for the most part of my life and have literally seen it develop in front of my eyes. I was home recently on vacation and was somewhat disappointed to see blatant disregard to environmental standards (building over mangroves, reclaiming the creek, etc.). It distresses me because I am big on sustainability and are repeating the mistakes of the developed nations.
If you are interested, I have written about the evolution of Palm Beach Marg (http://urbanplanningblog.com/2006/01/24/evolution-of-palm-beach-marg/)i.e. the ‘Marine Drive of Navi Mumbai’ that Rashmi is talking about.
I think you are over emphasizing the importance of CIDCO here.
The guys at CIDCO were involved in big scams, giving away away houses and land at prices. Recently there was lot of tensions between the two communities staying here and one major reason for it was anger with CIDCO. Natives here feel cheated and feel thier land was grabbed. Nothing new we must say in a country like India.
But i must say roads are much better there. But, hey check out mumbai in 2007, once MUTP project gets over
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