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`Mumbai is not moving; South India is' — Mr Deepak Parekh, Chairman, HDFC

Kripa Raman

I do not think that Mumbai is being deliberately sidelined. Actually, the problems are too many. Industry has been vocal about its needs for the city.

THE Chairman of HDFC is not just the best-known name in housing finance in the country; he is almost always the first choice of both government and industry on business matters of the highest controversy — such as that of the Unit Trust of India or, more recently, the telecom industry.

Mr Parekh is also known to be outspoken — he was among the few industry heads who voiced concern over the Gujarat riots. He has strongly stood for more liberal real estate and housing policies from the Central and State governments. And, with respect to the most high-profile real estate locality in the country — Mumbai — the city of his residence too, he has only anguish to express: "This is the city that gives wealth to the rest of the country, but the kind of treatment that Mumbai has been getting from Central Governments has been appalling," he said, at a recent discussion on the Parliamentary constituency of South Mumbai.

He spoke to Business Line on his concerns about the city of Mumbai.

Excerpts from the interview:

Why do you feel that Mumbai is "not moving"?

Mumbai is not moving, South India is. Look at the IT boom, no one wants to come to Mumbai. They find the South cheaper, their employees can get to work faster there. Some BPO activity is happening in the suburbs of Malad and Powai, but it is minuscule compared to what is happening in the southern cities.

At the Mumbai airport, midnight domestic flights to Hyderabad and Bangalore are going full. Foreigners arrive in Mumbai and completely bypass it. In fact, the hotel industry in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad is doing far better than in Mumbai.

When one travels from the airport to the city, one does not see a single crane. Of course, there is some real-estate and building activity always happening, but it is not of the kind that we are talking about. Is Mumbai growing or not, visitors ask.

What are the reasons for Mumbai's lack of progress?

There are so many inequities. Mumbai contributes 35 per cent of the country's corporate income-tax. We have seen figures that say revenue collection from Mumbai is Rs 36,000 crore, with the next biggest contributor giving only Rs 15,000 crore. How much of it is ploughed back into the city?

The quality of life is becoming poorer though the city may be getting wealthier. Slums are increasing; roads are getting more congested and traffic moves at a slow pace; public sanitation is very poor; there is inequality in property tax. My secretary who stays in a distant suburb pays more tax and more for water than I do staying on Carmicheal Road (South Mumbai). He has to buy water from tankers. If this is a commercial capital, it must be a showpiece; it is like a crowded dump.

What can be done about this?

Metropolises everywhere in the world reach a state of decay but there are renewal and revival plans. We have seen that in New York and, closer, in Bangkok. But there must be the will for that and huge resources. There are vast government lands, and property that belong to defunct textile mills. They must be released for corporates and for open public spaces.

There are two pilot projects — the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Plan and the Mumbai Urban Transport Plan-II. These are broadening roads and rehabilitating slums. But there must be 20 such projects happening simultaneously because the problem is so huge. You need to do things on a war-footing. And the authorities have spent the last two years negotiating just these two projects. I have heard of the beautification of Marine Drive for the last 10 years now.

In some quarters, it is believed that the concentration is on Delhi so as to make it overtake Mumbai in importance. Can industry heads not do something about it?

I do not think that Mumbai is being deliberately sidelined. Actually, the problems are too many. Industry has been vocal about its needs for the city. Bombay First, a group that includes industrialists, has had many discussions on this topic. So too the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents the Mumbai industry.

Unless some blueprint for a five-year programme is made and sold to the Central and State governments and to institutions such as the Asian Development Bank, and followed up, the problems of Mumbai cannot be tackled easily.

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