If Mumbai is Gotham, the civic body would be the Joker

  • India’s financial capital has richest civic body in the country that is ridden with corruption and inefficiencies.

  • The budget for Mumbai’s municipal corporation has increased 5 times in the last 12 years.

  • Yet, the creaky infrastructure brings the mega city to a grinding halt every monsoon.
The Joker was Gotham’s ‘agent of chaos’ and for Mumbai, it’s the civic body-- the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, which is responsible for its infrastructure. That includes roads, sewage, storm water drainage, bridges, water supply, licenses for commercial activity, schools and hospitals.

“Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair!” the Joker said in 2009 blockbuster, The Dark Knight. In Mumbai, corruption and inefficiencies of the city’s civic body unleash misery and puts millions of lives at risk, at random.

Watch: A Jaguar gets stranded in a Mumbai floods while a Mahindra Bolero wades through

Just like the hopeless people of Gotham, every monsoon, Mumbaikars prepare for the eventuality that they may not return home as they leave for work. On Wednesday (September 5), the civic body magnanimously advised schools to stay shut due to incessant rains-- at 10 am.

Watch: Stranded students being rescued by civilians

By then children had already left for school and, unsurprisingly, found themselves stranded. In some cases, they were able to get back home as late as 7 pm.

Money that would put a smile on any face

The mega city’s generous 24 million population has accepted the civic body’s indifference as its fate. This, even after contributing ₹30,000 crore ($4.2 billion) this year to the municipal budget. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s budget has swelled nearly five times in the last 12 years but the plight of its people has only gotten worse.

Even by the standards of commercial capitals in developing countries, Mumbai is a mess. Behind the veneer of its entrepreneurial spirit and a professional workforce, lies a city that has been plundered by the ruling elite at an unprecedented scale.

Mumbai’s civic body is flushing billions down the drain

Meanwhile, the cats at the BMC (which has 1.2 lakh personnel) are getting fatter every year.

For instance, documents show that its Chief Engineer AS Yamgar of the Sewerage Operation Department made a monthly salary of ₹1,24,725 as of June 2018. This is nearly as much as the salary of the President of India before the hike last year, or that of a mid-level corporate employee. However, for the BMC leadership and staff, the money seems to come without accountability.

And the rot runs deep. An India Today story in 2013 exposed how a driver earns more than the municipal Commissioner he serves. He simply slept in the vehicle after being relieved of his duties and got paid for working overtime.

Shiv Sena, the party ruled by the Thackeray family, controlled the corporation for most part of the last three decades. Therefore, the blame for the shortcomings of the civic body squarely falls on them.

The poor quality of the pothole-ridden roads of Mumbai reveal the enormity of misused funds. People tend to believe without question when it is informally said that less than 20% of the money is actually used in the infrastructure projects, and the rest is siphoned off. The passivity of the voters can be disheartening.

Almost 81% of the total of 1,491 kilometres of roads in the city are managed by the BMC. But, the four best-managed roads in the city – Bandra Worli SeaLink, New Airport Road, Eastern Freeway and Bandra Kurla Complex-- are under the supervision of Mumbai Metropolitan Road Development Authority (MMRDA), which is also in charge of the metro rail construction that is currently underway.

The MMRDA is not without flaws as exposed by the colossal failure of the recent monorail project. Yet, it has been slightly more efficient than the BMC in some cases.

The devastating floods of 2005 that killed over a 1,000 people should have been a wake up call. At that stage, an honest leadership would have been embarrassed enough to pull themselves into action and resurrect the city to avoid a similar carnage in the future. Since then, there have been five Chief Ministers -- Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Chavan, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Prithviraj Chavan, and now, Devendra Fadnavis-- but the people’s plight has got worse with every passing monsoon.

One may expect the authorities to prepare and respond better given that an election is scheduled this year. However, the choice for the voters is between the devil and the deep sea as both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) outfits have failed the people of the city over the years. In Mumbai, “ there are no heroes here, only survivors.

Disclaimer: Vishal Bhargava is a contributor to Business Insider. He has donned several hats in India's financial sector-- from investment banking to financial research to business development-- before becoming an entrepreneur. The opinions are solely reflect the views of the author and not of the publication.
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