Vantage point

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mumbai as a UT....or a country?

There are many things which people say just because they are fashionable. They might be right or wrong. But people will nevertheless go ahead and say those things, because its a fashion to say them, and instinctively they see nothing wrong with it.

One such "cause" that is supported fashionably is the matter of making Mumbai a union territory. Instinctively it seems great, doesn't it? Here is Mumbai, contributing a chunk of the country's taxes. And yet it is let down by these politicians who come from Latur, Nagar, Konkan, Baramati. Yes, instinctively we feel that making Bombay a UT or even a separate state will solve most of its problems because then the leaders of Bombay will be answerable to Bombayites. Think a bit and you realise that making Mumbai a UT to avoid problems like slums, bad roads, flooding, creaking public transport is like taking a Hepatitis vaccine to cure lung cancer.

People like Vir Sanghvi and Fali Nariman who passionately argue for a separate Mumbai seem to base their argument on the premise that being a part of Maharashtra is detrimental to the city. They speak as if the rest of Maharashtra makes merry at Mumbai's expense. But is it really so? I seriously doubt it.

Even today, Mumbai's infrastructure is far better than Pune or Nagpur. Mumbai has over 60 fly-overs, two wide arterial roads, an efficient bus transport service and a creaking-but-functional suburban rail system. Pune and Nagpur combined have barely half a dozen flyovers. They have no public transport to speak of, and the roads, at least in Pune,are no great shakes. The roads in Nagpur are superb, thanks to an efficient commissioner in their Civic Corporation, and not because of mooching off Mumbai.

Everyone talks about how Mumbai contributes obscene proportions of several central taxes and levies countrywide. Then they lament how a paltry fraction of it is pumped back into Mumbai.

And then, without batting an eyelid, they say, "Hence, make Mumbai a UT. Problem solved. QED"


For that they must first establish how much of Mumbai's tax collected is pumped into Maharashtra, and how much of it goes to the rest of the country. If a huge percentage of the taxes goes into developing other cities and rural areas of Maharashtra, then the argument for making Mumbai a UT make sense.

However if the bulk of those are central taxes which go into the central government's kitty and are then distributed everywhere else in the country, then there won't be any impact even if Mumbai is separated from Maharashtra.

Then we will actually need to think about separating Mumbai from India. :)

Another argument often put forth is that since most of the senior leaders in Maharashtra come from outside Mumbai, they don't really care about the city, since the Mumbai voter does not decide their personal fate. The argument goes that if Mumbai were granted statehood like Delhi, then the way Sheila Dixit's constituency is Delhi itself, the Mumbai CM's constituency would be Mumbai itself, and he would have to work for Mumbai's betterment.

Now, if a CM is necessary for a city's development, what good are corporation elections? The corporators are all dependent on the Mumbai voter for winning elections. Is BMC really doing all that great? I don't think so.

So when people put forth the Mumabi-UT argument, the two main reasons -

- That Mumbai will have total control over spending the taxes it pays
- That the state government(or UT government) will work better because it will be directly answerable to Mumbaikars

are both shown not to have a direct link with it.

It's just fashionable to say "Make Mumbai a UT".