Wednesday last, I spent roughly 2.5 hours on Lady Jamsedji Road in central Bombay. No, I was not shopping for vegetables or the like. It was a traffic jam and a heinous one at that. Reason: rains. And I left my office in Worli (central Bombay) thinking it couldn't be that bad. I mean sure it would take half an hour to 45 minutes more than the usual 1 hour (which is half an hour more than the earlier usual) but still.

Well, the roads were paralysed, the traffic had come to a standstill. To top it all, most of this arterial road was without power. And the water was rising, steadily. Actually no, but it looked like it would. For the moment, it was a steady drizzle, the downpour stopped a little while ago. And guess what, no traffic policemen. Or any policemen.

They had dissapeared. Like they did the last time I was stuck on this road for this duration. Would you like to know when that was ? Well, it was July 26, 2005, more fondly remembered as 26/7. When our car approached a traffic junction where we planned to turn off for a parallel road, I finally saw two men in the distance directing traffic. Policemen finally, I thought. Guess what, as I was turning off, I discovered they were local residents. Youngsters wearing wind cheaters. Amazing !

Every Deadline Is Broken

I can vent on and on about a whole lot of things that are wrong with the way civic authorities have plain messed up this year's run up to this year's monsoons. One thing stands clearly out. And that is a monumental inability to mismanage the simplest of things. Why else do you think every deadline for road completion is behind schedule. Which competent manager would have waited till the last day to finish what could have been done months ago ?

Or a disaster management system which failed instantly. Come on folks, have you heard of running mock-ups, tests, stress tests. How do you even dream your system works when you haven't exposed it. So, it boils down to a such a total managerial crisis in Bombay's civic system that even talking about it is depressing. Its this crisis that is ensuring the simplest things are going wrong and will continue. Unless something is done.

Running a city is not a joke. Surely not a megapolis like Bombay. And even assuming we had the most dedicated people in charge, I am sorry, it does not help. What you need here is not just commitment but talent. And a specific talents at that. We cannot be at the mercy of arbitrarily transferred civil servants. Someone who was running the textiles department or tourism cannot be running a city. No way. Someone who was running tourism can be sent to animal husbandry or agriculture.

Get People Who Have Experience

Infrastructure and city projects should be run by people who have managed large projects. Its another issue that even competent people have failed us. But the chances of their learning from their mistakes and improving are better. That's the difference between good managers and bad ones. We have the worse, because not only do they not learn from their mistakes but repeat the same ones every day. And every citizen in Bombay pays the price, dearly.

Bombay is now saddled with the most inept managers in the repertoire of India's bureaucracy, I would hazard. When the city is crying for the best in the country. The Government needs to hunt for managers. Actively. It needs to find them from within its system. Since it does not have the guts to hire from outside. And to be fair, there is talent within.

Whether within the Bombay Municipal Corporation or outside, we need managers who can manage projects, deadlines and be responsive to customers or citizens. And preferably have a track record of doing so. Put together a committee of former and present city managers to hunt for a candidate. And trust me you will. Even the government ocassinaly gets these things right. At least when it comes to public sector companies.

Politicians Bumble Along Too

Unfortunately, our politicians are unfortunately bumbling along with the mis-managers. Collectively, they are like the five blind men and an elephant. Which is obviously the city of Bombay. I can't think of a more disasterous combination. Good politicians have the basic sense to find and install good managers. Its their responsibility as well. Its time they did something. And found the right guys for the job.


Bombay Addict said…
GE - you've clearly hit a raw nerve. It took me 2 hours that night, and I considered myself lucky. I kept telling myself that "this is nothing, if i could survive 26/7, this is nothing" (FYI - it took me 6 hours to reach Bandra - from Siddhivinayak - that fateful night last year.)

You've raised valid points, which I also assume you've thought for a long time. But as you can see, nothing has been done. We failed miserably that night, as we did on 26/7. And the operative word I use is "we". Where are the people ? Why don't we have a say in all this ?

I'm not a believer of the "spirit of Bombay". I'd rather we have the people do something to change things, than stand out on wet nights helping people. And I also recall that we are the same people that ignored a Jaybala Ashar.
Yet, yet, yet...I still see a very thin ray of hope. For whatever its worth, Dr. Chandrashekhar at MMRDA, is doing a good job. In a thankless, unenviable job. At no point of time in the past have I seen so many things being done to change the city as I see now. The Metro, the Sealink, expansion of the rail lines, BRIMSTOWAD, to some extent, the Mithi river. Sure, these will take time - a lot of time. But at least these 30 year old projects are finally taking off.

Nothing can take away the fact that the BMC has failed us. The politicians have failed us. But - haven't we as people failed ourselves ? Didn't the people of Pune come out on the road when Arun Bhatia was shifted ? Can't we as people do something ?

The fault dear Brutus....

PS - would love your thoughts on above, which - if you forgive - has come out as more of an emotional outburst !
Anonymous said…
Sometimes I wonder if it makes any sense for us to feel outraged at the fact that the government/politicians/BMC/etc, have failed in most cases in this country.

Yes, sure, I want to desperately sound optimistic about things but where are the hints or signs that things will improve? Very often, when I ask this question, there are umpteen instances that people suggest are signs that things will improve. But the fact remains that every year, come monsoon and another traffic jam and I hear the same people suggesting yet again that there are signs that things will/are improving. And so on and so forth this country will meander, with a few props here and burst seam elsewhere.
Anonymous said…

First, I liked the Hafta ( I don't know who all are contributing, but its a truly spirited effort. And it looks and `feels' good as well. Congratulations and my best wishes to you all.

It also tells me, once again, that when you want to do things, you can. Am sure Hafta was conceptualised, thought, mulled over for some time. And finally executed. At a larger level, that's what we fail so terribly in..we think and think and think and do not do !

On MMRDA's Chandrasekhar, I agree, he's trying hard. The solution, maybe, is to hand over the whole city to him, instead of parts. which obviously is causing more logistical nightmares and diffusion of responsibility.

The inability to bring these chaps together or hand over the whole problem (Bombay) to one guy is another gargantuan management failure..and worse, our collective inability to even recognise the problem !


Bombay Addict said…
Hi Govind - thanks so much for your kind praise on the Hafta. It's the collective effort of some 20 odd people, mostly bloggers. It's a whole lot of fun and - as you correctly said - effort.

Needless to say I agree with your reply. Somehow I just hope that Dr. Chandrashekhar doesn't become a victim of the larger political system, which I doubt will let him get too much control of the city.

Thanks again.
Unknown said…
hi govind. i completely agree with you. the gap in terms of accountability between the private sector and govenment is constantly widening.and every city, despiet growing at a fast pace, has very inept people trying to manage essential services and the police.and now the areas where we do have a meritocracy-the private sector and some educational institutions are going to become the victim of 'reservations'- so that they cease to be meritocracies. where is it all going to end i wonder? btw, check out my writing on reservations on my blog. appreciate your comments.
Anonymous said…
NATO - No Action Talk Only.

Why do mediamen like you not use the power at your disposal ? Like the relentless Fight For Jessica.

Politicians thrive on publicity - cut that link and that only media can do.

Tell the Deshmukh govt that you will air only programmes on Mumbai/MH that focus on work done post 26/7 and no other and see the turnaround.

Everytime you interview an official of the MH govt or the MH MLA / Bureaucrat ask about 26/7.

Its only the media and the judiciary thats going to bring results.

Speak to any of the active RWAs in the affected areas and they will tell you of the apathy they have confronted in the past year.

And finally make it a little personal - ask viewers not to watch any movie starring Ritesh Deshmukh ;-)

Lubna said…
When you move to Bangalore, you realise that Bombay is paradise. I miss the trains, I miss the fact that I can step on the road at any time of the day or night and hail a cab. I miss the roads and the traffic that moves at a better pace. I miss hearing languages that I understand. But, yes, I still remember being stuck at the corner of Mori road for hours on end, just because it had rained.
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