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Wednesday, Nov 03, 2004

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Mumbai's burden

The article "Megalopolis on oxygen" (Business Line, November 2), with the telling photo of a Mumbai suburban train and travellers hanging out precariously, was interesting. This is the way a million people travel daily to and from their work places — from places as far apart as Ambarnath and Virar to VT and Churchgate. They do this without murmur and in a philosophical way of enduring this daily ordeal even as their leaders sell them visions of Singapore and now Shanghai.

The Prime Minister has said he will do "something big for Mumbai". Some months back, the Railways announced plans for a bullet train between Delhi and Mumbai in six hours! Yesterday, another minister has said that TGV trains will link Chennai with Hyderabad and Bangalore. Today, the railway minister talks of high-speed trains cruising at 250 kmph.

Last year, the McKinsey plan, which got generous media attention, had recommended an outlay of Rs1,50,000 crore spread over 10 years. The crux of that plan was a "block-by-block redevelopment of Mumbai with shopping malls, plazas and high-rise commercial and residential apartments by demolishing many of the old buildings."

The legislation mentioned in the above article, is an offshoot of such efforts. A change in the demographical profile will result in such redevelopment, with a bonanza for builders and developers!

Mumbai's problems are too complex to be solved in a few years. The suggestion has been made that part of our foreign exchange reserves be used to finance infrastructure projects.

While these are matters of detail, it should be the urgent priority of the government to come out with suitable short-term and medium-term solutions to the woes of Mumbai's suburban travellers and not peddle them grand visions.

S. Subramanyan

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