Category Archives: City Under the Skin

The New Mumbai Coastal Road: My Thoughts

As a Mumbaikar, I have lived and commuted in the city for 17 years, regularly doing so for 13 of them. My journeys have almost always been conducted in cars. Unfortunately, I do not think that I have the gumption to make it through a day on the Indian public transport system. While the overcrowding of trains and the chaotic saturation of cars, people and animals in seemingly unplanned, ancient streets provoke an image with an exotic allure for tourists, it is an inefficient, frustrating tiresome reality for commuters to live through daily. Not to mention the dangers of having dozens of people hanging out of the doors of the train carriages and drivers packed in lanes within inches of the other vehicles. Over the years, I have noticed the level of congestion increase. Commutes that were once 20 mins long have now doubled due to the creeping slow traffic. All the cars contribute to a significant amount of noise pollution and accidents every day. According to Conserve Energy Future (CEF) website noise pollution can be caused by poor urban planning and transportation. Both factors are in play in Mumbai, among others. These can cause damaging effects such as hearing problems, health issues such as on cardiovascular health and impacts on ecology. The website also attributes troubles in communication due to noise pollution. Although, usually such troubles stem from commuters themselves, starting with one frustrated driver mouthing off on another and usually ending in an Indian UFC fight night in the middle of an already congested street. Instead of professional fighters you have a 5 feet tall, open shirted cab driver with his sunglasses hanging off his neck against your portly dad who is out of breath before he’s gotten out of his Honda Civic. Brawling Mumbaikars aside, there are multiple reasons for further developing roads, highways and bridges to ease the flow of traffic.
A city’s roads are comparable to rivers. Due to a growing population, the pressure builds up. To ease such pressure new roads, must be constructed. The Bandra- Worli Sea Link opened in 2009, demonstrated the potential for success with such roads. It connected North Mumbai with South Mumbai and drastically shortened the travel time between homes and places of interest such as the distance between Colaba and the airport. The proposed four- lane coastal road project will span the length of the city’s coast facing the Arabian sea and will be built in two phases. Phase 1 would involve construction from Princess Street up to the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link and Phase 2 would extend towards Kandivali. There are crucial advantages to constructing such a road. The most obvious include easing the heavy volume of traffic on the roads currently being experienced. This would also decrease the number of vehicle collisions and the negative externalities of densely populated roads. The other is to further connect the city and create more job opportunities for people living across it as it may become easier to get a job that is of a further distance from one’s place of residence due to being able to waste less time on the road. This is also an important step in developing the city to compete with the world’s Alpha cities. Such a road would also bring with it multi- storey car parks and recreational areas around it. This would help develop the city’s infrastructure.
On the other hand, it could have some negative implications. To complete the project, approximately 1% of Mumbai’s mangroves would be destroyed. While this appears to be a small percentage it could have a negative impact on the oceanic ecosystems that rely on these mangroves to survive. Mumbai has also faced major flooding in the past which is directly linked to the receeding numbers of mangroves in the waters around the city. Most notably, the floods that took place in 2005 devastated the city. By further removing them it may only add to that problem. Apart from a negative impact on the environment, I have some concerns to do with the quality of infrastructure. The project is one of the most ambitious the city has faced due to the scale of the construction and the complexity of it. This could result in an inconsistent construction whose effects could be amplified by the size of the project. This could mean that any potential issues may disable significant percentages of the road. In the past, parts of the Mumbai metro have collapsed due to being weak and having to face the monsoon, thus collapsing under the pressure of the rains.

This project is very ambitious. I believe that it is possible that it may not be as successful as predicted due to the incredibly confusing logistics. However, should it succeed, it will further push Mumbai on a competing path with major world cities. It will demonstrate India’s prowess in structural development to the world.

Mumbai Ki Vandana

Mumbai is a fast growing Alpha city. It is known as the city where all steps are successes, a city where dreams come true for all those people that live in it. For the country, Mumbai is the financial capital of India. It has been developing new infrastructure and trade in the past decade. Important Indian companies base their headquarters in this city. Yet even with an exponential advance in the fields of urbanisation and technology, the population of the poor is growing fast. Mumbai is home to some of the largest slums in India and they are manifested with families of the financially limited. These people find it a challenge, to earn a living because they do not possess the job skills or the experience required to earn a substantially supportive wage for their livelihoods.

The Vandana foundation was set up in 2010 by Anami and Saumya Roy. It has one goal. It aspires to make poverty a by-gone in Mumbai. Well- recognised banks are under the notion that the poor cannot repay loans that are given to them. The foundation was set up to prove that this view is a stereotype against the needy. It bases its operations in Gandhinagar, close to the very areas in and around Dadar that these people come from. This is where their efforts can take full effect.

The loans provided by the foundation are small and feasible, but are only lent on conditions. The persons receiving it must do so only for business growth. There must be no personal consumption of the money given to the respective person. This is to ensure long- term profits from investments in their own stock. To receive a loan, young and old entrepreneurs come from all over Mumbai. There is a selection process for whether they should receive or be denied. It involves 4 steps:

Step 1: A detailed information form must be filled in including the person’s identity, profile, family background and amount daily earnings. If it is under Rs.100, then they may not receive a loan as they would not then possess enough money to keep for their household.

Step 2: A physical examination of the business is conducted. People may try to hide the price of what they earn and so this must be done to ensure that they are being legitimate when they state their background.

Step 3: A credit check is conducted. The foundation is signed in with a credit bureau, so that they can identify people who have taken loans from other micro- finance groups. This is essential so as to prevent the borrower from being burdened by the financial noose of multiple allowances.

The borrowers are encouraged to institute groups of persons that belong to the same area to encourage moral support when working to repay loans in the time period given.

The loans range from Rs.5000- Rs.20000. If the first loan of Rs.5000 is repaid with no trouble, they may be encouraged to apply for fixed loans up to Rs.20000 according to their history of repayment. If someone is unable to repay a loan, they do not have to do so but will not be allowed to borrow thereon after. This is conditional to the reason. If the borrower in question has been ill, and unable to operate then they may carry on with an extended period of reparation. 99% of loans are successful. Some have made more progress, than others, becoming quite successful and well- known by the local community for the quality in their line of work.

Most of the recipients do not have bank accounts. Due to prior experiences, many do not approach banks to open an account because they believe they will be denied. The Vandana Foundation is in cooperation with The First Rand Bank which allows them to open accounts for recipients that wish to do so. The government has chipped in and helped the movement. They have set up job skill programs for the service, banking, accounting and computer sectors. Those who take part in these programs are ensured jobs that pay them better than their previous ones.

Many people who wish to procure a loan have outstanding businesses that open quite colourfully. There is a group of scrap sellers that find litter from dump sites that have been discarded. They throw unusable litter away and keep the plastics and metals. They re-use the garbage. It is sold on the second- hand market. It is a hazardous job for health and safety but it benefits the city. Metals and plastics can be recycled in factories. This is an unusual business as there is trade in it too. They run their own barter system and trade with fruit vendors. Hence, they get fed and the latter gets a chance to make more money out of it. Most of the waste can be used in composting, for generating electricity. They are indeed the best citizens. Having received no kindness from the city, they continue to provide their services to it in their love for their home. They only wish to buy more tools for the job.

There are those who travel long distances every day. An old man travels from the suburbs into the city every day. He buys cut- pieces from the local markets, stitches them into clothes and then makes the tedious journeys to Pune and Lonavala on alternate days to sell them. He makes the effort because he gets joy out of clothing children.

There are masses of fruit vendors and “bhaaji walas”. Even the famous “dabba walas”. These people are the backbone of the city. Listening to their stories of daring makes me feel proud of calling them mumbaikars.

The staff at the foundation are no different. They are dedicated to their work. They hail from the slums, often children of the former borrowers. They only wish to make a better life for themselves and their friends and relatives. This is why they are vital to the cause. They can understand and relate to the lives of the people living around them. It helps the foundation understand the people’s plight.

The founders, Anami and Saumya Roy aim for the future. They wish to give micro- entrepreneurs the boost they need to make the climb across the wall of poverty easier. Their highest hope is that they have and will continue to make large changes for the good communities of Mumbai. Their work has been acknowledged globally by people of all sectors, including British royalty like the Duchess of Cornwall. They plan on taking this profession to new heights, paving pathways for all those poor that wish to lead happy lives and make better earnings. In truth, they simply want to touch lives and make them more suitable. Indeed, they truly have an auspicious purpose; “arth mangal”.

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