Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Strange City

If a tale of two cities were to be written today - it might be about Shangahi and Bombay. One aspires to be the other, but the other is streaking ahead. And before you know it Bombay may not even aspire to be India's premier city anymore.
I could rail on about corrupt cops, but that is not peculiar to Bombay, its just that over here the problem is pretty bad, possibly the worst of any major city in this country. But thats not the point. The point here is the story about the building collapse that dominated all the headlines today. Why I find this strange in only when a building collapses do the papers ever pay attention do that very nice and antiquated bit of legislation - the Bombay Rent Control Act of 1940. But it seems to date back from 1840. You know why Bombay will never become Shanghai - it is that act. Throughout the streets of the inner city, run down old houses dominate the skyline of India's financial hub. Fair enough, I understand the need to preserve the interests of the poor and downtrodden, but preserve their inetrests (staying in dilapidated yet downtown plot) at the cost of their lives?
Worse still, new immigrants coming to this town end up cross-subsidising older tenants paying Rs 40 a month. Driving property prices ridiculously sky-high in this city, because legislators will never change it - loss of votes they'll scream. Bombay is not a dead city - people haven't moved out of their homes - but its getting there. Slowly but surely its getting there. And then there is Shanghai and take it from a person who has been to that city twice, it is a few centuries ahead of Bombay, let alone the brilliant eight-lane expressway from Shaighai's stunning Pudong airport (versus Sahar International - hah!) to Shanghai's hub, eight lane roads, brilliant high-rises the lot. Communism cry our politicos (other than our muddled Communists who cry Capitalism!), but if Communism (Deng Xiopeng style) gets me a MagLev train, I'm all for it.
True, ordinary residents in Shanghai don't have a voice, but how much voice to ordinary citizens in Bombay have? A PIL here, a PIL there and even if you win the PIL the government will legislate its way around it. This city needs help, help that even a firebombing reminiscent of Tokyo in 1945 won't be able to do. I know old-time Bombay hands may say that all this adds character, oh well, Lepto is always good character. What this city needs is a ballsy leader who'll give a flying fuck about votes and pull this city up by the bootstrings. Big time!
The new-look trains are a slight improvement though!


thalassa_mikra said...

But you still wouldn't want to be a Chinese journalist, right?

I don't think political expediency and populism is the problem here, given that those who benefit from dirt cheap rent control housing are a tiny minority (like the Connaught Place shop keepers). The problem is that the tiny minority has clout disproportionate to its size and plenty of noise-making potential. Identical to the situation of public-sector employees.

Given a choice the majority would prefer the rent control housing freed up for high-rise apartment projects (and add to housing stock), and public sector enterprises sold off to widen the employment base.

K said...

Well, I wouldn't be a journalist if I was in China, I'ld make my money selling pirated stuff.
The protected people under the Rent Control Act are not just shopkeepers in CeePee, Crawford Market or New Market. But in this city (Mumbai) many of the people staying in 70-80 year old flats are middle-class people, who are paying Rs 25-55/month. I'm not saying that make them shell out more, but I know that slum-dwellers in Dharavi pay more. Whats the logic? And when the buildings collapse (why should ANYONE look after buildings where the rent is so low and the maintenence fee doesn't exist) they blame the landlords and government and the bleeding heart media (other than a few biz journos who try and explain why this is happening) blame the government.
Its pathetic.