Our corporators obviously do not believe in the dictum, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I just signed a petition against the proposed revamp of Rani Bagh, the city's largest botanical garden. If the plan goes through, many of the 3000 trees of 227 species will be felled to make way for an aquarium, theatre, car park and staff quarters. The cost of the operation will be about 500 crores, much of which will not be recovered even if ticket prices are increased enormously.
What the Rani Bagh plan demonstrates, aside from the sheer idiocy of the chaps at the helm of Bombay's affairs, is that money is not in short supply in the city. The state as well as the municipal corporation have plenty of funds coming in from octroi, stamp duty and other lucrative levies. The common complaint that Bombay is mistreated by the Maharashtra administration and deprived of its fair share of Central government income is nonsense. Just travel a little way east and experience summer afternoons without electricity and you'll know how privileged this city really is. The taxation argument is specious because most large companies which pay their dues in Bombay have factories located outside the city. Besides, if everything we gave the centre was returned to us, what would go toward alleviating poverty, defending our borders, building ports and inter-state highways? Big cities are expected to take care of themselves revenue-wise, aside from contributing to the national exchequer, and Bombay does that pretty efficiently.
It isn't a lack of funds that's hurting Bombay, so much as a lack of will and vision. How else can one explain the plan to build a skywalk from VT to Churchgate, Mantralaya and Colaba? That section of town, as many commentators have noted, is pretty pedestrian friendly. I walked from Colaba's 3rd Pasta Lane to VT just last evening, and found few barriers to movement despite the hawkers camped within the DN Road arcade. Near the Bennett Coleman building, pedestrians hurried across the road to the railway station, ignoring an overbridge available to them at that spot.
And there's the rub. The authorities find it impossible to maintain sites and enforce regulations that would keep our roads and pavements in good shape. To be more accurate, the authorities are reluctant to do these things, because that would be the equivalent of killing the goose that lays golden eggs. Vehicles parked in no-halt zones, unlicensed peddlers, pavement-blocking shanties, illegal extensions to shop fronts, all these are sources of income. The convenient approach is to leave them where they after penalising them for their transgressions, and offer expensive 'solutions' like skywalks, projects which themselves provide new revenue streams through kickbacks.