20 December 2005

Two Mumbais?

There is Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country; the city that contributes as much as 40% of the country's coffers in taxes. Then there's a Mumbai divided: South Mumbai, the country of the haves; and Suburban Mumbai, the country of the have-nots. This divide is debatable of course, with suburban Mumbai catching up on demographics and development. Upmarket highrise residential complexes, movie and entertainment multiplexes, shopping centres and malls now decorate the suburban Mumbai skyline, not South Mumbai which had once been the hub of cosmopolitan activity.

Once upon a time, South Mumbai was where it all happened. People thronged there for work and business, for their shopping, and for their entertainment. In many ways, for Mumbaikars, going to South Mumbai was like spending a day out. This, no doubt, referred to the millions who travelled in buses, local trains, cars and share-taxis, for an hour or more, just to reach their places of work and/or entertainment. On the contrary, people in South Mumbai would saunter in from home in 40 minutes or less, fresh as a daisy, or perhaps with a hangover from the party the night before. While people in Suburban Mumbai toiled to reach home in time for dinner, South Mumbaikars would reach home from work, change, and go out for the evening.

Today, this divide is widening. Not in lifestyle, but in anger and resentment in suburban Mumbai which complains about “the iniquitous distribution of the city's revenues,” according to a media report (going back to August this year) on www.rediff.com by Saisuresh Sivaswamy. Other voices have spoken up too. There's a feeling in suburban Mumbai that there should be two Mumbais - with separate administrations and civic authorities managing the two municipalities. The report goes on to say, “There is already a division of sorts in place, or call it a recognition that the city is too vast to be dealt with from one point, between the Mumbai Collectorate and Mumbai Suburban… The throbbing suburbs of Mumbai cry out for a better deal, and its destiny cannot be decided in a part of town that scarcely has any concern for it. The viable solution is to bifurcate the city into two civic administrative units, Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburbs, each with its own municipal corporation that will raise money from, and spend, within its jurisdiction.”

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