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Night life in flames!

Monday, January 01, 2018
By Prashant Hamine

One does not need a year-ender review to judge the performance of governance by the Shiv Sena-ruled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The tragic inferno at the 1Above pub at Kamala Mills Compound is good enough testimony of that inefficient, exposing corrupt governance of the mega city. More than 20 years of uninterrupted rule has bred monumental corruption, inefficiency and nepotism. Every civic election, the Sena has raked up the bogey, created fear amongst the voters that if it is ever voted out of power, all hell will break loose. Mumbai will be destroyed by the non-Maharashtrians!

The Sena has put that trump card to good use every time it felt power was slipping out of its hands, and had good results. In February 2017, it almost got a scare of its life when the BJP almost crept close to stealing power from it. The verdict of 2017, in a way, was a grim reminder to the Sena that it cannot run the city as per its whims and fancies, with total disregard for governance and what people want. The era discrimination against sons of soil of 1960s-1970’s is now long gone by. The city is yearning to transform itself into a thriving true metropolis of the 21st century. But its rulers are time-wrapped in a bygone era unawares that the demographics of the city have altered beyond imagination.

For years now the Sena has hand-picked 'rubber stamps' as Mayors, only to ensure that the administration is run on 'Auto-Pilot' by the party leadership from outside. In order to ensure that it has used recruitments only for Marathi speaking population at lower grades of civic services to good effect, serving its twin objectives of creating its solid vote bank and an iron-fist like grip on its power in Mumbai and Thane. It is little wonder then when Congress MLA from Mumbai and former minister Mohammed Arif (Naseem) Khan raked up the issue of trifurcation of BMC, the Sena once again raised its hackles and raised its pet bogey of plans to separate Mumbai from the rest of Maharashtra.

Years of domination, rule by proxy and an ever subservient administration that cares more about the whims and fancies of its real political masters than Mumbaikars, has ruined the city, leading to urban decay. Despite laws being made to check illegal construction, illegal slums and illegal hawking, where onus was fixed on the local civic officials, the city today is witness to urban squalor. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government has only hastened the urban decay by extending the regularisation of illegal slums to 2011. This repeated act by successive governments with ulterior motive to retain their toe-hold amongst the electorate is the primary reason for proliferation of slums and urban decay.

For a journalist like me who was eyewitness to the rampant corruption in the BMC in the mid-1990’s, things appear to have hardly changed. The only change has been that back then, 'dalals' (middlemen) with money bags in hand would wait outside meeting halls where BMC's General Body, Standing, Improvements, Education, Health, BEST Committee meetings were held. They would wait for their proposals to be passed and then money bags would change hands. The scandalous tapes of how the powers that be and the nexus between politicians, administration and contractors that surfaced then led the Congress storm to power for the only and last time, in 1992-93.

Today, the scams and corruption in road repair contracts, de-silting of storm water drains, housing, solid waste management, water supply, education, health, tree authority, transport and fire brigade departments are all because of the well-entrenched corrupt nexus between politicians and the civic officials. Even now, post the Kamala Mill Compound tragedy, cosmetic surgeries like sacking few officials and demolishing outer-facades of a few premises is what's happening just to hoodwink the angry Mumbaikars, only to pacify them, so that it becomes business as usual later on.

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