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MeMumbaikar – Clean, Talented and Honest

, September 2, 2012, 0 Comments

Our city’s leading historian, Sharada Dwivedi, who passed away much too early recently, told me that the best possible birthday of Bombay is June 21,1661.That was when it was handed over to Charles II by the Portuguese as dowry, when he married Catherine of Braganza. So this arts and civic plan is dedicated to her.

Stuck in Cochabamba in 1994, high up in the Andes while tracing the Che Guevara trail to the silver mines of Potosi where he was captured and shot dead, the small mountain town was celebrating its birthday over 1000 years ago. As a sometime Municipal Commissioner of Aurangabad, the thought occurred, why don’t we do so in every village, town and metros of our country? They had floats and talent winners and annual exuberance. Can we not turn this to step by step improvements in Mumbai to begin with?

The BMC has 227 Wards with a Councillor for each. To begin with there can be talent contests in each Ward…for oratory, music, dance, culinary arts, fashion design, science, the whole nine yards of identifiable human excellence. The orator et al of the Ward will then compete at the Zonal Deputy Commissioner level and then at the city level to perform on the birthday of the city. The Greeks had their chosen orator at the opening of the Olympic Games and other major events. Other city talent winners can also perform on the birthday.

While the Ward level competitions go on, there will be side by side, annual programmes to improve civic services of clearing garbage regularly, restoring open spaces , dealing with unauthorised hawkers and more than all of this, declaring all Ward offices of the BMC corruption free. The idea is to have a corruption free BMC in five years. The Ward where the main BMC headquarters are located will be responsible for cleaning up the notoriously venal buildings, roads and other departments. (Since this is a Collector’s item on BMC we are not making any reference to our earlier issues.) Just as the Ellora Festival…which I created…and the Elephanta Festival…which I conceived, celebrates our heritage, we need an annual Haji Ali, Kala Ghoda, Synagogue and an Agiary and Siddhivinayak syncretic festivals, as also a city oriented Jain and Sikh festivals to affirm unities at a time when these are in danger. These festivals may be celebrated only after civic improvements of an enduring nature are brought about during the year.

The BMC will have to enter into partnerships with the state government and private sponsors to make all of this happen. On every birthday, the BMC will have to publish a list of improvements at Ward and all other levels as their annual programme, including those where partnership with metropolitan and state agencies is involved. There can be an updated report board at the Nehru Centre, which can also be the scene of birthday celebrations since it is likely to be a rainy day. A permanent exhibition of our city as seen every hundred years from 1661 onwards will give us a sense of history many of us need.

It is important to turn some of the rooms in BMC schools after class hours into study cum recreation centres. These can become the focus of sports activities so that along with talent competitions, sports can go along in neighbouring open spaces to identify fresh talent.

The annual Parish competitions in Bandra already do much of this in a very limited way. Imagine the Orator and Poet of Mohammed Ali Road throwing up potential leaders among women of all ages, because they can now perform in public, singing all over the city with voices freed from their domestic cages. Even local beauty competitions where Ms. Ghatkopar can catch the public fancy, or a painter emerge from the slums of Dharavi. With increased reservation for women in political processes, the orator of the area will be much better for starters than wives and attendant ladies of discredited pols.

In this process, Powai lake will be cleaned up, as will stagnant water bodies all over the city. ALM’s all over the city will be activised, fresh ones given an impetus for being set up to deal with backyard problems. From micro to macro, there will be a birthday every year to work towards. From the ages of 5 to 95, everyone will get a chance to display talent, fight corruption and take our city to unprecendeted stardom.

Where will this begin? Someone like Nita Ambani can take an interest or Wipro or anyone else. I had a chat with the honcho of Bombay Stores sometime ago. He said, strange you should say all this. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was our Director a hundred years ago. Yes, I replied, now our slogan should be, “Cleanliness is our Birthright and We shall have it.” At a presentation five years ago Uddhav Thackeray and his main protagonists were taken with ways to declare BMC corruption free in five years. The time is here and now…with the slogan suggested to him. The pride of the Mumbai person is that he will not give a bribe or take one…he will not go this side of the law or the other side.

Possibilities are immense, win-win for everyone. The Bombay Marathon I created in 1986-87 at a cost to the tax- payer of Rs.1.50 lakhs and tried to get Ravi Shastri and Arun Nanda to take forward a few years ago, is now parlayed by Standard Chartered Bank and Pro Cam into Rs. 20 crores every year. Bombay’s birthday, Mumbai’s future with mini marathons, cycle races, talent events and civic improvements of every kind, awaits this focus. All investments, specially private, will be repaid many, many times over.






About author
S Shankar Menon, an IAS (retd.) officer and former Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra (1995-97). ...more