Indian Decade

Is Mumbai Unliveable?

The Mumbai attacks are a reminder of the failure of urban governance in India, particularly in its financial centre.

The latest round of bombings that have rocked India's financial and entertainment capital Mumbai have claimed 21 lives and maimed scores more. This set of bombings is the latest carnage to visit this teeming metropolis.

Interestingly enough, on this occasion, its citizenry, and especially its booming middle class, are no longer celebrating their fabled resilience. Instead, there is quiet anger brewing against the politicians and administrators, who have yet again demonstrated that the city is far from impervious to large-scale terror attacks.

Such frustration, while entirely apposite, underscores a far larger problem of urban governance in India. For the most part, India's urban agglomerations have become unliveable. The wealthy have retreated to their walled mansions, hired private security guards, move about in air conditioned chauffeur-driven limos, drilled bore holes for their water supply and have acquired enough diesel powered generators to cope with an uncertain electricity grid. The middle class simply makes do with crumbling apartments, erratic water and electricity supplies, and routinely suffer the ignominy of relying on a creaking public transport system.

Amidst these trying conditions, other public amenities continue to decline. Public parks are mostly squalid, new gleaming malls squat amidst broken sewage systems, streets are routinely waterlogged after monsoonal storms and most urban, state-run hospitals resemble charnel houses.

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This urban squalor has complex antecedents. In part, it stems from a serious inattention to urban planning, unbridled rural to urban migration, antiquated housing laws and, of course, ubiquitous corruption extending from high-level politicians to lowly governmental clerks.

In the wake of both terrorist attacks and natural calamities the usual cries for reform come to the fore. In an effort to placate public opinion, politicians make some cosmetic nods to address pressing needs. Soon after, a combination of apathy, cynicism and sheer lethargy sets in until, of course, the next disaster strikes.