Friday, September 2, 2011

Ay dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan…

A recent survey by The Economist ranks Mumbai among the "world’s worst cities to live"

In a global ranking of 140 cities, Mumbai has finished at 116. The city’s poor ranking has evoked hardly any reaction from its political leadership, or even its people, who seem to have resigned themselves to their poor fate. Are things really this bad, or aren’t they? After twenty years of economic reforms, the financial capital of one of the world’s fastest growing economies (all the things the ‘experts’ on CNBC or elsewhere tell us) ranks 116th on “livability”. What is it that the world looks at, that we are missing out on?

The Economist’s survey gauged cities on five categories - political and social stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Here is my take on the topic.

1. Stability: Prevalence of crime, threat of terror / military conflict or civil unrest:

Look at the numbers. More than 5,000 cases of petty crime and violence, such as chain snatching, rape, dacoity, theft etc. were reported in Mumbai in the first four months of 2011 alone. This excludes white collar crime, corruption and the like.

The city has seen 8 terror attacks in the last 10 years, killing nearly 500 people and injuring many more, not to mention the communal riots of 1992-93 or the serial bomb blasts of 1993 that killed more than 250. The world gives no marks for the “spirit of Mumbai” which springs back to its feet the next day after every bomb blast. Against this, I have visited countries where I was told there is no need to lock your home while going out – “nobody will take anything”.

2. Healthcare: Availability of private and public healthcare, drugs and general health indicators:

This is something that India itself scores very poorly on, and Mumbai is no exception. The United Nations’ Human Development Index ranks India at 119 out of 169 countries. The HDI measures life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being.

In Mumbai, public healthcare is the responsibility of the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation. But for a city of more than 1 crore people, the BMC provides just 4 ‘teaching’ hospitals, 5 specialized hospitals, 16 peripheral hospitals, 28 municipal maternity homes and 14 maternity wards. Most of the residents (80 % plus) rely on expensive private medical care. The result? 32 per cent of the reported ailments in the city remained untreated. Even today, seven to eight per cent of all deliveries in Mumbai happen at home.

3. Culture and Environment: This covers factors such as climate, culture and environment.

Air pollution levels are five times higher than acceptable levels and a quarter of water the city drinks is actually  unfit for consumption.

Noise pollution is high, rising and during festivals reaches alarming levels.

4. Education: This covers availability and quality of public and private education.

Mumbai has literally thousands of schools, colleges and educational institutions. Clearly, no shortage of quantity here, but when it comes to quality, like the rest of the education system in India, there is still a lot to be desired. The education system is actually an ‘examination system’ and churns out graduates who are skilled at nothing. As per an Assocham study, India was at the last position in terms of quality of secondary education in seven emerging market economies.

Goldman Sachs says the lack of quality education was one of the 10 factors holding India back from rapid economic growth.

5. Infrastructure: Quality of road network, public transport, international links, availability of good quality housing, energy, water etc.

Ah! The less said about this the better! Mumbai’s transport system is one of the most congested in the world. More than 1.5 million vehicles cram the city’s potholed roads with utter disregard to traffic discipline. Even the smallest of rains are enough to clog the streets with water. Trains of 1700 passenger capacity ferry more than 4500 passengers each during peak hours. More than 60 % of the city’s population lives in slums, where even  shanties cost more than a couple of million rupees. 

For water, the city still looks to the Rain Gods every year. According to a World Bank study, of the 27 Asian cities with populations of over 1,000,000, Mumbai is ranked as second worst performer in terms of hours of water availability per day. And despite this, 700 million liters of water, or 20 % of its daily supply, is lost daily due to theft, illegal connections and leakages.

Basically, nobody cares.

Building sky-scrapers and flyovers does not constitute development; there is a lot more to making a place ‘livable’ than the city’s leadership would like to believe. But is anybody listening?

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