Why Narendra Modi should announce a mayor for Mumbai
Mumbai is the world’s sixth-largest city, with a population more than several countries, including Australia, or three times the size of London
A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI
Newspaper reports suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to campaign for the 2017 elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Clearly, running India’s second-largest city matters to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A win could strengthen the BJP’s political position with a difficult regional ally, the Shiv Sena. It could also build credibility with 22 million Mumbaikars (and citizens in other cities), if the planned investment of Rs.1 trillion rejuvenates the city, creates jobs and expands incomes.
The incumbents will fight hard to retain control: the city defines their identity and BMC’s mammoth annual budget of Rs.37,000 crores gives them heft. So what could the PM offer that will help his party win in a city of sceptical, apathetic voters (38.4% voted in the last municipal election)?
For one, he could offer a new approach to run the city: an elected political mayor with a tenure of five years, empowered and accountable to fix the city. Why is this needed? For starters, Mumbai is slowly dying and fixing it needs more than investing in a few projects.
It is the world’s sixth-largest city, with a population more than several countries, including Australia, or three times the size of London. It contributes 30% of income tax and 60% of custom duty. Migrants still flock to it, women feel safer in Mumbai than in any other Indian city, and communities come together for everything from Ganesh Chaturthi to street cricket.
Infrastructure is creaking but trains and buses mostly run on time. It also has the most exciting redevelopment plan in India (16.5 acres by the Bohra community).
Yet, the city is in decline, and losing the battle for jobs and capital. Since 1991, while its population doubled to an estimated 22 million, its design has largely remained unchanged, stressing the legacy set-up. With the sub-optimal experiment to create another business district in Navi Mumbai, it remains a north-south city, putting disproportionate pressure on the suburban train infrastructure, increasing transit time for the average citizen and making homes unaffordable. Land use remains static and no new land has been released.
Quality of life has deteriorated with inadequate investment in affordable housing, transport, water, sewage and storm-water drains, especially in the suburbs. The city is routinely hit by flooding, rising pollution and drug-resistant diseases.
Mumbai also seems to have lost some of its appeal due to the high cost of living or doing business. A look at its roster of corporate residents confirms this. While it remains the headquarters of older companies and banks, most start-ups tend to prefer Gurgaon or Bengaluru.
Mumbaikars are also voting with their feet. The island city has seen its gross domestic product (GDP) shrink as talent prefers jobs in suburbs, where they can afford to live, which in turn forces companies to move out of South Mumbai.
So what can be done to save the metropolis?
For starters, there is a critical need for a ‘blueprint’ to improve citizens’ quality of life: projects to improve transportation, resilience and security. Also needed is a plan to renew land use: unlock tracts of government-owned land (such as the Mumbai Port Trust and reclaimed land), design multiple cities within the metropolitan area and tailor floor space index to drive desired density. Indeed, committed citizens and bureaucrats are currently debating Mumbai Development Plan 2034.
There is also a need for an ‘economic’ story to attract investors: articulate Mumbai’s role in the economic growth of India, the kind of jobs it wants to attract and the quality of infrastructure and policies it will offer to de-risk business.
Finally, the new mayor needs to engage citizens (especially the young) and align political parties using a compelling ‘political’ story. This is essential to balance the short-term election imperative (state and BMC elections every five years) with a renewal plan that will bear fruit over 15-20 years.
While the ‘what’ is clear, the ‘how and who’ remain the challenge.
Fixing Mumbai needs a deft, trusted political leader accountable for this renewal. Why? A look at the ‘jobs to be done’ makes this obvious.
To execute this plan, the leader will raise funds (use public land and debt, raise and collect fees for citizen services provided, fight for central and state grants), allocate capital sensibly (finalize projects and sequence them ensuring equity across wards, the rich and the poor) and ensure project execution (create audited books of account, hire private partners and agencies, coordinate across the corporation, re-organize where required).
He or she will need to ‘sell’ this story to investors and citizens. This is not the job for the best of bureaucrats. These officers have short tenures (transfers every 2-3 years), cannot take risks (the spectre of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India) and can get crushed between political parties. Clearly, this job is best done by a political representative of the people, with a clear mandate to make choices on their behalf.
Cities know they need leaders. Global cities elect mayors, some of who eventually run countries (e.g. Indonesia, Italy, and Philippines). Indian law too recognized this via the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment almost two decades back. Indeed executing this is a state subject.
Some attempts have been made: Kolkata has an effective mayor-commissioner model while Chennai flirted with an elected mayor for a few years and Bengaluru got a city minister last year. But this law remains largely on paper due to missing political will.
Perhaps state leaders are uncomfortable with giving someone control over ‘valuable’ urban land or worry about creating city leaders, even when this might be the best approach for a cadre-led party to create local leadership (as the Chinese communist party realized 30 years back).
So when he campaigns in Mumbai, PM Narendra Modi could take the lead by encouraging state leaders to announce a candidate for the city’s mayor, who would be empowered and made accountable. An owner with a long-term view is the best bet to kick-start the long journey to renew Mumbai. And the PM could win the 2017 battle for BMC and the 2019 war for India.
Ireena Vittal is a former partner at McKinsey & Co. Her areas of specialization include emerging markets, agriculture and urban development.
Source : http://www.livemint.com/Opinion; IreenaVittal