The BMC is proposing to construct a 1.3 km Ghatkopar-Mankhurd viaduct. Is the flyover being planned with the intention of increasing mobility of people or motor cars?
After the commencement of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), a partially World Bank funded project, the Government of Maharashtra (GoMah) embarked on improvement of road infrastructure with the intent to improve the growing road congestions in Greater Mumbai. This was being done through its metropolitan regional planning entity called Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) bypassing the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The planning entity was also given the mandate to execute the near about Rs2,500 crore project called Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP).
The plans were put down by MMRDA and approved by the GoMah, subverting the essence of democratic process where the local urban body was denied the right to determine its pattern of development, going contrary to the Constitution, especially after the 74th Constitution Amendment Act was passed in the 1992.
Why is the state government usurping the democratic self governing ethos by doing things precisely in an unaccountable manner? After all it is only the cabinet that clears the actions or proposals of MMRDA and MMRDA comprise of only ‘experts’ in urban and town planning; besides how many in the cabinet are from the city? If one looks at number of members of the legislative assembly, it is substantial—36—good enough to determine which party can come to power, but not strong enough to be in the cabinet that could give vent to the aspirations of the city-dwellers.
The latest news is that Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM i.e. BMC) is proposing to construct a 1.3 km Ghatkopar-Mankhurd viaduct.
There was a time in the developed countries when they thought of mobility can and has to be achieved through use of motorized personal transport. As the need of roads increased, they began providing more roads and grade separators by way of flyovers and viaducts. They have realized to their dismay that such infrastructure does not help in mobility of the people. They only accentuate additional problems such as noise and air pollution and the need for parking infrastructure. They also realized that the congestion point only shifts and distance to be driven increases. Whereas speeds did increase, casualty figures in accidents also increased. Therefore, fundamentally, a flyover is not such a good idea. In fact in Seoul, they even dismantled a flyover and restored a canal and made it accessible open public space with emphasis to public transport, BRTS in particular. It requires courage to do some introspection and decide what public good is. It took a while and plenty of public consultations before the final decision.
Penalosa, erstwhile mayor of Bogota, Columbia took courage to implement various public friendly projects including the Transmilenio BRTS while exercising his elected mandate to self govern his city.
The next question to ask is, is the flyover being planned with the intention of increasing mobility of people or motor cars? If it is the former, has the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) been considered in working out details. Since BRTS for Mumbai seems to have been shelved by GoMah for unknown reasons, the subject of flyover obviously would have been thought out with motor cars central to the problem to be addressed.
It is a positive sign that Uddhav Thackeray has taken the position to reassert the right of a local self government. In the coming two years, the BMC can perform well and should by asserting itself. BRTS, if one analyses dispassionately, is the only option we have to overcome the current road jams and provide mobility to the masses and an option to move out of congestion and associated problems to those using motorized personal vehicles.
If putting up the Ghatkopar-Mankhurd viaduct is to show reassertion of political will of the Mumbaikar, then it should be welcomed. It would also be politically as well as technically sound if this viaduct as well as all physical infrastructures the BMC wish to take up are with walking, cycling and BRTS central to it.
(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He is member of the Committee Constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the Suburban Railways System Friendly towards Persons with Disability (2011- ). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted at [email protected])
The person should have the qualities of the first three presidents of India, or should be adept at land–grabbing. The writer takes a light-hearted look at the probable front-runners
Who is to be the next President of India? Difficult question and the answers I will try to give are from the common man’s point of view; nothing political about them.
What qualities should a President of India possess? Not a difficult question. The person should have the qualities of Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, Dr S Radhakrishnan, the second president of India or Dr Zakir Hussain, the third President. Or the new president should be adept at land-grabbing.
The difficult part is finding people of the calibre of these three gems who were the first three presidents of India. So, let’s forget about quality.
And if we were to consider the qualities of the last president (the current incumbent), we will be flooded with eligible candidates. It will impossible to choose, even using Nandan Nilekani’s UIDAI computers, with some help thrown in by Visa and MasterCard.
There is one big (physically small) speed-breaker: Mamata Banerjee alias Didi alias Shrek …sorry…Shriek. Anyone we choose must not dissatisfy her. Mamata will appreciate the double negative; she believes in shouting ‘No’ as the first response to any proposal and since she is firm that she will have the last word, she will end out debate with a louder shriek of ‘No’ which Jayalalithaa can hear in Fort St George in Chennai, without a telephone.
Where Mamata is involved, India is a ‘democrazy’, as one newspaper put it. Her view is equal to a hundred Electoral College votes. By her diktats (as I imagine them) we cannot have anyone west of West Bengal; it would be an insult to the Bengali bhadraloks and, worse, proof of a CPM conspiracy. And we can have Pranab because that would again be a CPM plot.
Mamata however has backed Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar for president. Meira has one strong qualification. The Times of India carried a story today that in the four years since she became Speaker she has gone abroad once in 37 days. The Times was quoting a reply to an RTI query which showed that most of time she went to Switzerland and other countries like the Bahamas which have salubrious climates.
The President of India has to make many official trips abroad. Meira should be fine with that arduous duty since she has a lot of experience.
Pranab Mukherjee is the front-runner for the Congress. The question is: Will he be more useful in Rashtrapati Bhavan as president or in North Block as finance minister? To the Congress, Rashtrapati Bhavan is a better place for Pranab, considering what is going to happen in the 2014 general elections.
There is bound to be a hung Parliament and it is always better for the referee to be your man.
Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik are rooting for PA Sangma. I think the BJP too is in favour of the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha; naturally it would be since it cannot support Pranab Mukherjee.
Sangma had a good run as a Speaker, guiding the Lok Sabha well during the rule of the ‘kichdi’ coalitions at the end of the 20th century. He also has a good sense of humour. With his qualities, he may be able to steal people’s hearts rather than their land.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch the Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
Kumar Mangalam Birla’s investments in “sunrise” sectors over the last decade have been garments, retailing, telecom, financial services and software. All these have fetched very poor returns. Now comes his investment in the messy, unprofitable and sunset media sector
Kumar Mangalam Birla has just bought a 27.5% stake in the Living Media group which publishes a clutch of magazines such as India Today, Business Today, Cosmopolitan and so on. The group also runs channels like TV Today, Aaj Tak and has a printing press called Thomson Press. The acquisition was done through Kumar Birla’s private investment company. While announcing the stake buy, Kumar Birla said “The media sector is a sunrise sector from an investment point of view. I believe that Living Media India offers one of the best opportunities for growth and value creation.” Both these are questionable. If you look at the balance sheets of all but a few of the largest companies, the media looks like a sunset sector and Living Media not exactly in the pink of health.
Mercifully, shareholders of Indian Rayon and Aditya Birla Nuvo have been spared of this adventurism. Aroon Purie, a chartered accountant who controls the India Today group, has so far kept Living Media and Thomson Press private, and has publicly listed only TV Today.
According to the data we have of 2010, Living Media made a loss of Rs12 crore for March that year. In fact, all except some English publications like the Times of India, Hindustan Times and the leading regional publications (like Malayam Manorama or Ananda Bazar Patrika) are losing money—as are top TV channels like NDTV and TV18.
If Mr Birla genuinely believes that media is a sunrise business, the question is how many times will Mr Birla get carried away by trying to invest in so-called sunrise sectors?
Kumar Birla has been dreaming of sunrise sectors for over a decade now—ever since he inherited the old fashioned metals, cement and textiles businesses when his father Aditya Birla passed away in 1995. He entered the telecom business (Idea Telecom), financial services (Birla Sunlife Mutual Fund and Birla Sunlife Insurance), sold stock the broking business and later bought again (Apollo Sindhoori) and took over the garments business of Madura Coats, paying Rs235 crore to acquire Van Heusen, Louis Phillipe, Allen Solly, Peter England and started a retailing business.
Among the sunrise businesses he had identified in 2001, was software. In June 2001 Indian Rayon bought 50.35% controlling stake from France’s Groupe Bull in PSI Data Systems (PSI) at a price of Rs186.80 per share in cash—costing Rs71 crore. Commenting on the deal, at time, Kumar Mangalam Birla had said “This strategic foray into the technology sector is part of a well-crafted plan to enhance value for Indian Rayon shareholders, through significant rise in growth and earnings. Our aspiration is to attain a leadership position in this sector.” While spending Indian Rayon’s money in buying PSI and Madura garments, Kumar Birla had also declared that the company has undergone a major change in profile by getting into businesses in which “knowledge and branding are key”. That sounded like a powerful wish but was it grounded in reality? In June 2003, Mr Birla even went into the low-margin business of call centres by buying Transworks. The outcome? PSI Data got delisted in March 2009, after destroying 60% of shareholders’ wealth over eight years. Madura Garments hardly makes any money consistently.
The fact is, like the media Mr Birla is willing to fund now, all these businesses—garments, software, IT services, financial services and retailing, telecom— were also described as sunrise businesses and were claimed to be value creating. None of these have delivered return on capital that justified investments in them. Mr Birla’s attempt to make over the commodity-oriented group, through an entry into the glamorous businesses has added to the group’s profile but not much to its bottomline. All these new-gen businesses are limping because they need focused and innovative entrepreneurship while Mr Birla’s principal strength is access to capital.
Possibly chastened by the financial outcome of these dubious forays, Mr Birla has decided not to use public-listed companies to finance his media wish. In that sense, his private investment in Living Media marks a departure from his earlier adventures. He will be a passive and personal investor in an unlisted company. That doesn’t answer a key question: Will he again be throwing good money after bad having fallen for glamour? That depends on how well he understands the media business.
The economics of the media business in India is completely been vitiated over the past decade or so. It is not a business where the more efficient thrive. It is not a business which is delivering improved quality of products and services to masses. Indeed, many of the better media companies are financially crippled today because the competition for advertising revenues is too intense. So, why doesn’t the supply of media products and companies shrink? Because poor quality media companies are not pushed to the wall and do not go out of business. Their losses are supported by politicians and businessmen for their own vested interests. Why have three new daily newspapers sprung up in a poor state like West Bengal over the last two years? If there was ever a sunset business, it is media, especially the print part, which is core of Living Media. And Aroon Purie has publicly stated that the promise of digital media is overblown. Kumar Mangalam Birla seems to have not only got carried away once again in his quest for sunrise sector but this investment is surely one of his worst.