The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mumbai, Aug. 7: It’s Mumbai’s citizens versus its politicians.

There is a growing demand among Mumbai’s citizens for making the country’s financial capital a self-governed city-state within Maharashtra. However, politicians ' insecure about vote banks ' are shooting down the idea even before it is debated.

Bombay First, an independent private-public initiative for Mumbai’s development, had on Friday convened a meeting of citizen’s groups to discuss the impact of the July 26 deluge and find long-term solutions to ensure that the city is equipped to manage such disasters.

The meeting ' attended by several prominent citizens, including Mahindra and Mahindra chairman and managing director Anand Mahindra, ad man Alyque Padamsee, historian Sharada Dwivedi and former cabinet secretary B.G. Deshmukh ' discussed whether making Mumbai a city-state with a directly-elected, empowered mayor could be the solution to governing Mumbai better and looking after its development needs.

It also debated whether creating a city-state with an independent budget and autonomy is feasible. Many felt this would involve constitutional changes and would be opposed strongly by political parties.

“We discussed if an autonomous body could be created for Mumbai within the state of Maharashtra. A mayor with more executive powers could head that body and would be responsible for Mumbai’s welfare. All of us agreed that we at least need to initiate a public debate on this,” said Vijay Meghani, CEO of Merc Holdings Pvt Ltd and a member of the citizen’s action groups of Bombay First.

The idea is to evolve a governing structure similar to cities like New York, London and Johannesburg. New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani brought down the crime rate in the city and also effectively handled the aftermath of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings. Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, was the crisis manager for the British capital when it was rocked by the 7/7 serial bombings.

However, even before the idea could be put before the public, political parties have shot it down. In a scathing editorial in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna, Bal Thackeray criticised actor Jaya Bachchan for supporting the demand for an independent status for Mumbai in a parliamentary discussion.

“You have been staying in Maharashtra for several years and now you are saying this. We will not tolerate anyone speaking of separating Mumbai from Maharashtra,” Thackeray thundered.

Thackeray, who like Bachchan was marooned in the July 26 deluge, termed the discussions on transforming Mumbai into a self-governing city-state a “conspiracy”. “Even Jaya’s husband Amitabh Bachchan would have banged his head after hearing what she said in Parliament.”

The editorial said P. Chidambaram had made a similar suggestion and praised Raj Thackeray who challenged the Union finance minister to separate Chennai from Tamil Nadu before advocating a separate Mumbai.

Thackeray’s son and Sena executive president Uddhav echoed his father’s opinions at a media conference. “The idea of a separate Mumbai will not be tolerated. Mumbai does not need a CEO. We will give a fitting reply to anyone who attempts to do that,” he said after announcing a donation of Rs 5 lakh from the Thackeray family for rehabilitation of deluge victims.

The meeting, which was also attended by former Maharashtra chief secretary Ajit Nimbalkar and the principal secretary, urban development, Nanasaheb Patil, discussed various aspects of the deluge, including the failure of the disaster management plan, the flooding of the Mithi river, the collapse of the drainage system, transport networks and communication systems.

“We have set up a committee which will study the disaster management plan for Mumbai and make recommendations about what could be done to make it work better,” Bombay First chairman Narinder Nayar said.

“We also agreed that we need single-point accountability. It could be a rehabilitation commissioner for Mumbai who will work with the help of technical experts,” he said.

A key recommendation Bombay First is likely to make to the government is to install more rain gauges to record rainfall in various parts of the city.

On July 26, the Colaba observatory of the weather bureau recorded 73 mm rain, while the Santa Cruz observatory registered a record-breaking 944.2 mm. As a result, the Mantralaya mandarins sitting in south Mumbai may have failed to realise the tragedy unfolding in north Mumbai, with communications and power blackouts compounding the disaster.

Another recommendation is to clean up the Mithi river, which runs from Vihar lake in Powai in eastern Mumbai to Mahim Bay in the western suburbs, to ensure that rainwater drains out.

Encroachments, the destruction of mangroves and haphazard construction have led to the channelisation and choking of the Mithi.

Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has announced that the government will set up a body to monitor the Mithi and clean it up.

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