Shanghai dreams


Mumbai is far from its dream of modernising the city on the lines of Shanghai, and a major reason for this is the lack of coordination between the various agencies involved in overhauling its transportation system, says A.V.Shenoy.

A decade ago, there were talk in nearly every forum on Mumbai development about remodeling Mumbai on the lines of Shanghai city. A number of committees visited Shanghai, the largest Chinese city to learn about its development model. However, even today Mumbai has not taken any steps towards modernising the city on the lines of Shanghai, the reasons for which are many.

Lack of coordination and accountability

In Shanghai, when the government decided to redevelop the city, all concerned agencies started working together. Roads were widened, flyovers were built, large plots were redeveloped by demolishing existing buildings using cluster development model keeping in mind the increasing requirement of transport. Public transport network was strengthened. All this was possible because Shanghai had a unified authority controlling all agencies, which were working in coordination. This unified authority was accountable for the implementation and completion of the project.

One of the major reasons why Mumbai has failed to move ahead with the plan is because of lack of coordination between the various agencies. In Mumbai, nobody has worked on a unified well-planned and well-directed transformation work. There are in all 19 agencies looking after transportation and building of infrastructure. Some of the major ones are MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority), MSRDC (Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation), MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai), BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport), Western and Central Railway and MRVC (Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation). In 2008, the state government created a Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA) headed by the chief secretary, which was expected to bring coordination among the various agencies. However, UMMTA turned out to be a toothless body with no powers to take decisions. It has hardly held any meetings in the last three years. Therefore, there is no single authority who is accountable for the implementation of the plan.

Delays in project implementation

Inordinate delays in implementing various infrastructure projects like MUTP (Mumbai Urban Transport Project), JVLR (Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road), SCLR (Santacruz Chembur Link Road), Metro I, Monorail, Worli-Bandra Sea Link, Eastern Freeway have resulted in transport infrastructure not keeping pace with the increasing needs of the growing population in Mumbai suburbs and MMR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region). Though Railways have increased its capacity by increasing number of tracks and rakes from 9 to 12/15, the trains still run jam packed during peak hours making train travel extremely difficult and unsafe for passengers. Out of three Metros planned for the city only one is scheduled to be completed soon. The work for the second is yet to begin.

There is lack of integrated view while planning, e.g. public transport projects and housing developments are taking place independently, while they should ideally be done in coordination. No minister or commissioner is held accountable for the delays in implementation of the projects.

The state government is encroaching upon the functioning of Mumbai Municipal Corporation for e.g. The MMRDA is responsible for the integrated development plan in the area of seven municipal corporations within the metropolitan region (Thane, Kalyan-Dombivli, Navi Mumbai, Ulhasnagar, Mira road – Bhayandar, Vasai – Virar and Bhiwandi – Nizampur while the development works in Mumbai have to be carried out by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). However, the state government has been using MMRDA for carrying out development works in the area of BMC. This is done by the state government blatantly without involving the BMC.

Mumbaikars shortchanged

BEST, which is the sole public transport authority for running buses is not a preferred mode of transport for long distance travelers, especially office goers, as it cannot provide speed to the commuter. The frequency is also not dependable as the buses have to negotiate the chaotic city traffic. BEST is therefore running in losses due to decreasing occupancy, which has gone down to about 58 percent because of reduction in speed to barely 7-9 Km/hr. The AC buses which were introduced by BEST about four to five years back with much fan fare, especially for office goers are also running in losses.

The traffic discipline in Mumbai has gone haywire due to daily increase in the number of private vehicles, both cars and two wheelers. Traffic police are unable to control traffic offences due to perennial shortage of staff and modern equipment like CCTVs which can read vehicle number plates of offenders.

Increasing number of cars and free parking have resulted in major portion of roads getting occupied by parked cars, commercial vehicles, tourist buses, tankers etc., causing traffic bottlenecks all over the city. Even suburbs which have come up recently are now congested.

Government is giving more emphasis on the long term – high cost and car centric projects neglecting medium and short term low cost projects. This has resulted in insufficient increase in public transport and more and more cars are on the roads. Pedestrian facilities are totally neglected though 52 percent of all journeys are on foot.

The last but most important point is that the Urban Development Department (UDD) reports to the CM (Chief\ Minister) of the state, who is normally not from Mumbai and has more urgent and pressing issues of the entire state and more particularly his own constituency to look into. Therefore, the infrastructure projects of Mumbai do not get the necessary priority or adequate funding. In my opinion, a Mumbaikar/ Mumbai-based person who knows the pulse of the city and its problems in-depth is more suitable to head the city’s administration and capable of delivering.

It is therefore unfair that despite being the highest tax payers, the citizens of Mumbai are deprived of convenient and comfortable transport in the city. Despite being the financial capital, not much is being done to speed up the urgent transport needs of the city. The Centre does not allocate sufficient funds for suburban railway network projects though railways earn their profit from Mumbai.

Achievements so far

Some of the projects which have been completed recently like JVLR, SCLR (partly), Eastern Freeway, Monorail have given some relief to Mumbaikars. Metro I, which is expected to start soon, is also expected to bring further relief and improve the East-West connectivity between suburbs. However due to delays in completing the projects as mentioned above, they are not able to meet the present requirement of the citizens.

The present Development Plan for 2014-34 under preparation by MCGM is trying to consider transportation as an integral part and make provisions for the same in line with the proposed land use plan.

The Cluster Housing Redevelopment guidelines under discussion presently propose housing redevelopment in line with Shanghai model. However, the modifications made in the same do not ensure proper transportation or other infrastructure development which was the main purpose why it was adopted in Shanghai.

What needs to be done to achieve the Shanghai dream?

  • There is a need to have a single point governance system where one person will act as the Mumbai Governance Head (MGH). All agencies i.e. state, central, municipal or otherwise functioning in Mumbai will have to coordinate with him to implement the various projects. He will be responsible for all the development work by the government agencies and will be accountable to the people of Mumbai. The state government should not interfere in the day-to-day functioning of the MGH.
  • UMMTA should be given powers to take all decisions related to Mumbai’s transport and they should be binding on all authorities. UMMTA chief should report to the MGH.
  • Mumbai Suburban Railways should be separated from Indian Railways and a Mumbai Suburban Rail Corporation should be established. The entire Railway network in suburban Mumbai should be owned by this corporation.
  • There should be integrated land use planning with transport infrastructure.
  • The short and medium term low cost projects should be given equal weightage along with long term projects.
  • There should be citizen participation in planning, implementation and evaluation of development plans and participation of voluntary organisations in development and environment.
  • There should be special transport fund for city transport infrastructure projects which can be obtained partially from Central funds like JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) and the rest generated locally from transport cess, toll or parking fees.

Learning from Shanghai’s mistakes

While following the Shanghai model, it is necessary that we steer clear from the mistakes Shanghai made. Shanghai built the city as car-centric eliminating seven million cyclists from the roads for which it is now paying heavily in terms of pollution. It felled trees lined alongside famous riverside of the Bund – a waterfront to make way for the riverside car park and elevated promenade which blocked the magnificent view of the river. The scheme implemented by Shanghai authorities ignored the cultural and commercial diversity of the old city. We need to keep all these aspects in mind and provide for sustainable transport which includes walking, bicycle lanes, good public transport, when we redevelop Mumbai.



The writer is a member of Mumbai Vikas Samiti looking into issues relating to infrastructure, transportation and housing in Mumbai.