The City That Soars and Stinks

mumbai1.jpgEvery year The Forbes magazine comes up with startling observations. This year the list has been has brought Mumbai under the spot light, both for the good and the bad. The conclusions of the lists present a paradox. The financial capital on the one hand can now boast of giving to the world the 5th and the 6th richest persons in the world, namely Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani. On the other hand, it has been labeled as the 7th dirtiest city in the world.It would seem absurd that a city like Mumbai, which is always compared to cities like New York, Shanghai, etc. would make it to the top 10 of a “ list that stinks”. The high rise buildings, the thriving business at the Dalal street, the Jimmy Choo and the Dior showrooms at Nariman point and the plush bungalows of Juhu tell a completely different story altogether.It houses famous Bollywood stars, and is at the same time, home to a million people of whom a majority survives in dire conditions of poverty and squalor. And who is to be blamed for all of this? As it usually happens, the fingers are pointed towards the inefficiency of the municipality to address hygiene issues and its lax attitude to ensure minimum sanitation standards. Hereafter, begins the blame game where the municipality on its part dismisses these findings and conclusions as baseless. This time they defend themselves saying that the absence of epidemics itself is an indication that the hygiene problems in the city are not that acute as they are projected to be and have denounced the study stating it to be based on some vague criteria. However, anyone who has visited the city would not deny that the observations on its cleanliness have not been exaggerated at all. In fact, if not for a few localities, it would not have been a surprise if it featured at the top of that list. It is a city where the largest number of slums that are cramped and exist in conjunction with a massive number of industries, completely disrespecting ecological values and presenting an appalling condition. From rats scurrying in the railway stations to open sewage lines and unattended garbage, Mumbai has it all. However, the real reason for the problems confronted does not seem to entirely lie on the indifference of the authorities. The crux of the issue lies in the very nature of our political economy which provides for a top-down growth. Thus, consequently, one would see an industrialist who makes it to the top ten richest people in the world while the people in that very city suffer from the absence of avenues for a decent human survival. The money invested in large industrial expansions comes only after doing away with the social capital which the poor depend on for their sustenance. It is this deprivation that takes the form of ‘dirtiness’ and makes news. The very competitive nature of our economy gives rise to unemployment, and eventually poverty, and goes onto explain why large parts of the population live in slums with absolutely no access to the basic conditions of life.The Forbes list isn’t merely a barometer measuring the aesthetical aspects of a city, but it is a denotation of the stark inequalities generated in a city at the threshold of development. It is the economic dualism that both the lists represent. The cleanliness drive should also sweep away the inequalities and reach to the very roots of the problem in order to uproot them. It is surely not possible to achieve it immediately, but a gradual and consistent approach towards this goal, would yield results. Probably, then we would have Indians topping the list for being the richest and the cleanest at the same time. Rohini Ram Mohan[Image courtesy:]