APLI Mumbai : a citizens plan to re-imagine Mumbai

In my 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, the issue of reclaiming Mumbai’s Port Lands was central to my agenda. 

Mumbai’s Port Lands, (comprising approx. 1000 acres of non operational land within the Mumbai Port Trust, on the eastern water front) represent a unique and perhaps the only chance to re-vitalise and re-imagine the city of Mumbai.

The Mumbai Port was once the fulcrum of our great industrial city from the 18th-20th century. However with rising costs, Industry migrated, with a corresponding decline in Port operations. Once thriving warehouses turned derelict and the area is now a dumping ground for coal (1.8 mln tonnes in 2013), a toxic ship breaking yard, (where the iconic air craft carrier Vikrant has been beached for scrap) and other polluting and undesirable activities. 

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

The area can and should become a green lung for the city offering much needed public utilities such as schools, colleges, vocational training centres, hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, sports facilities, arts & crafts zones and open spaces. It can also become an Educational cum sports hub, and an Innovation cluster with Incubation facilities and infrastructure for new age entrepreneurs.

Derelict warehouse

Derelict warehouse

Over the past few months, I was happy to see that many Mumbaikars shared this dream and even happier that the new Government picked up this idea, and invited citizen suggestions.

Working with a wonderful group of young architects, urban planners and Mumbaikars, we formed a citizens group called APLI Mumbai and proposed the attached vision plan to the Mumbai Port Trust. 

Our proposal takes into account the historical, archeological and ecological characteristics of the Port Lands and proposes 12 neighbourhoods that can swiftly and economically transform our Port Lands into a beautiful, friendly, open and vibrant part of our city.

Strategically located between the Suburban harbour line and the eastern waterfront, most parts of the Port Lands are no more than a 10 minute walk from an existing railway station.  The Eastern waterfront lends itself seamlessly to coastal water transport and with the 9 Passenger Water Terminals that we have proposed, the Port Lands can decongest Mumbai’s crowded arterial roads and provide much needed North-South and trans-harbour connectivity.

12 Neighbourhoods to re-vitalise Mumbai’s PortLands

We have suggested certain core principles to the Rani Jadhav Committee in our Citizens Vision plan, namely :

  • People Oriented planning: no privatisation of the the water front, human scale development, and the area should be designed to friendly and accessible to all (from a child of 8 to a senior citizen of 80, as well as to those who are differently abled)
  • Transit Oriented Design: with integrated mobility, pedestrian &  cyclist friendly, and with a walking time to a transit hub (rail or passenger water jetty) of no more than 10 mins
  • Holistic planning: integrate the needs of Mumbai and the MCGM 2014-34 plan with the development of the Port Lands space, as per UDPFI guidelines.

We have also suggested an enabling Legislative framework and a financing plan, that envisages Mumbai’s industrial houses, investing their CSR budgets, for creating Public utilities and public spaces, that are much needed for the future of all Mumbaikars.

To ensure that this is truly a Citizens plan and that the Port Lands are not subjected to the land grab that our Mill Lands were, please share this widely with your friends and family and all who are passionate about the future of our city.

We see this as a living document and would be very glad to receive your ideas and suggestions.

Please share your feedback at apliportlands@gmail.com so that we can incorporate your input and update the MbPT at regular intervals.


What I stand for

In 2009, I stood for the Lok Sabha, National Parliamentary election as an Independent Candidate for South Mumbai. Though I lost, I learnt a great deal about my city and the people at its heart. It was the beginning of a journey, and one that I knew, I would devote the rest of my life to.

At the time, my step was considered quixotic by many, who regarded it as tilting at the windmills of the powerful Indian political establishment. Yet, in the four years since then, I have been delighted to see a rising wave of other independent citizen candidates and newly formed political parties, start to contest local and state elections.

It is as if the floodgates have opened, and the common citizen, the Aam Janta have said “Enough”. The initial reluctance of our generation, to participate in a political process widely regarded as venal and corrupt, has given away to the realisation that Politics matters. We can no longer abdicate the space of Governing our nation to the lowest common denominator. We can and must participate constructively, not just in the political debate, but in the process itself.

In the past four years I have been asked repeatedly if I would stand again; from which constituency and what my campaign strategy would be. Friends and well wishers have been generous with advice and offers of support, that I greatly value.

But it was a simple question from a child that has dominated my thoughts over the past four years.  “Why are you standing” she asked, “and what do you stand for ?”

To answer this question, I started to undertake a series of exploratory journeys. The first into the issues that our country grapples with. The problems of education and health; of law and order and human rights; of poverty and corruption; of water, energy and food security…and of the best practices and policies that India could adopt, to address these challenges.

But it soon became evident that my ideas were shaped by my own background and perspectives – that of a banker who had grown up in urban India. In my years of banking I had learnt one thing – if you make the wrong assumptions, you make the wrong decisions – and such mistakes can be very expensive. There is no better way to understand the business and prospects of clients than to spend time with them in the field and understand the dynamics and drivers of their business.

Since India lives in her villages, it became clear to me, that this is where I would have to go. So in the summer of 2012, I embarked on a journey to the villages of India. During the course of the year I visited 15 states and spent time in over 120 villages. For the most part I traveled by public transport and lived in the homes, for a day and a night, with the women beneficiaries of my bank’s foundation.

Some of the stories of the journey have been shared with you through this blog and posts on Face book and twitter, and much of it still remains to be told. But the thread that ran through each and every step of this path, was that despite all the cynicism and sense of hopelessness that we experience when we watch TV or read the papers, the heart of India beats strongly.

The dignity and generosity with which I was welcomed into the homes, of women who had very little, will stay with me for ever.

In home after home, my hostesses refused to take any compensation for the hospitality they provided me. The true meaning of “Atithi Devo Bhava” came home to me when in one instance my gift of a saree was gracefully accepted and then in return I was presented her “shaadi ka joda”. Despite the  hard physical labour which they put in over long hours (women everywhere in our country rise at dawn and work till late at night), there was always time for the sharing of stories and for the gift of laughter. It became abundantly clear to me that the women of our country have very big hearts and very broad shoulders.

But it also became clear to me, that we are eroding this moral fibre of our people with the policy of hand-outs and give-aways that every political party is adopting for short-term electoral gains.

In Gram Sabhas, I was often asked aggressively by male villagers, as to what I had come to give them. The plethora of Government schemes driven by electoral promises, delivered inefficiently and with innumerable leakages, is creating a climate of entitlement. This is worsened by well-meaning NGO’s who see development through the lens of charity.

In other villages I was asked for help in accessing bank loans. Initially very pleased at this request, I was distressed to learn the reason bank loans were preferred to all other forms of credit was that “they never had to be repaid – as they were invariably written off before the next election.”

Flag ship schemes such as MGNREGS, which if well executed can transform districts (ref my blog on the Bankura experiment) are in general so poorly implemented that they are becoming major vehicles for corruption and theft. Villagers across the country confided how they had received money despite doing no work, but also shared that they did so in the knowledge that everyone up the chain had taken a much larger cut. “Is it not fair that we should get our share ?” was the simple question.

So we have embarked on a path, where policies that ostensibly aim to provide social justice and inclusion are becoming ruinous. From the recent experience of some countries in Europe, it is clear that such policies are not financially sustainable in the long run and result in the impoverishment of the finances of a nation. What is worse, is that through the collateral damage they create, they impoverish the soul of a nation.

We are converting a proud and dignified people into those who are dependant on hand-outs. This will destroy the future of our children.

The second major concern that I gathered on this journey, was the erosion of faith in our Institutions. The common man has begun to doubt the pillars that are the very foundation of this country – the police, the judiciary, the CBI, various constitutional bodies, and even the Armed Forces.

These are institutions that we look up to, to uphold our rights as free citizens – no matter what our social status or incomes, no matter what our gender, community, caste or religion. We can only be equal in the eyes of the law if there are institutions that defend and uphold our rights, not just in letter but in spirit.

But sadly, whether this is justified or not, the people of India have begun to feel that the integrity of these important institutions have been compromised. This will erode the faith of citizens in the state and the very basis of our democracy.

We are at a tipping point.

Ours is a nation of hard-working, innovative, entrepreneurial people who are decent, God-fearing and honest. Our people have no need for charity, nor is it in their nature to cheat or defraud anyone. We are not a corrupt nation but sadly some of our leaders are. It is not the people of India who have let our country down, but regrettably much of our political leadership has.

It is time for all of us to take a position in defending what we believe to be right. And so, this is why I stand.

And this is what I stand for :

I stand for the soul of India.

I stand to uphold the integrity of our institutions.

And I stand for the dream of every mother who believes that the future of her child will be bright – based on his/her own hard work and because she/he had no more, but also no less, than a fair and equal opportunity.

In search of Dignity – Jagriti Yatra III


Today is the 2nd day of 2013 and the 9th day of the Jagriti Yatra.

The train has acquired the familiarity of a home and co-yatris feel like family. In queues waiting for water, or for a turn to use the facilities, one comes across really interesting stories.

Elizabeth the spider scholar from Kochi, researching the medical potential of spider webs; Shadab who has set up a school for 500 under privileged children in Ranchi; Manish the engineering student in Gauhati who has set up an on line travel agency specialising in tours of the North East…this is an incredibly bright and enterprising group of young people.

Our role is to act as Resource persons and provide perspective and context. Increasingly however, it is clear that it is we, who have much to learn from these youngsters ! Our visits to the Role models over the past three days has also provided much food for thought.

Day 6 was spent in Vishakapatnam. Our first destination was Naandi, where the graceful Leena Joseph shared the story of Naandi’s journey to providing over a million mid-day meals a day. The spotless kitchens and precise supply chain logistics are impressive – but what is most touching is the care and thought that goes into the preparation of the meals. As someone who started the Naandi mid-day meal project by boiling 500 eggs each morning at her home, Leena is a very inspiring role model.

That afternoon we visited the Naval base at Vishakapatnam, and were privileged to be invited on board some of the Navy’s finest ships. As the daughter of a naval officer, being in a naval establishment was a nostalgic experience for me. For many of the Yatris this was their first experience on board a naval vessel and the delight on their faces was a treat to watch !

On December 31st, Day 7 we broke journey at Behrampur in Odisha. The artistry of the people of this state, was immediately evident from the beautiful mosaic work on the walls and facade of the station. We spent the day with Joe Madiath of Gram Vikas, in the campus at Mohuda, and at their project villages of Batapali & Sindurapur in the Ganjam district.

On my journey through the villages of India this year, I have found that the solution to every problem one encounters, is to be found somewhere else in the country. However, despite journeying through almost 120 villages across 12 states, I had been unable to find a practical and affordable solution to providing a toilet and tap water to each home.

At Gram Vikas I was delighted to find a team of people with a simple mission and the solution to this problem. In Joe’s words “In the 21st century no woman should have to walk more than 10 steps for water, and every home should be a House of Dignity“.

The House of Dignity, is the name that Joe gives to a simple two room structure, built behind each hut, comprising of a bathroom and a toilet. Each is supplied with a tap with running water (the Gram Vikas solution comprises an integrated water supply solution based on local water sources).

Behind the House of Dignity, two septic tanks connected by a Y valve are constructed. The toilet drains into a single tank with the Y valve closed. The villagers are encouraged to plant fruit-bearing trees like coconut, banana, lemon etc. around the tanks. Through the process of leaching, the surrounding soil is fertilised, as is evident from the rich crop of fruit. On average it takes about 5-6 years for one septic tank to fill to capacity. The Y valve is then turned to allow the other tank to fill. Within a year the material in the first tank gets converted into humus and can be used as manure. This provides a permanent and hygienic sanitary solution.

The cost of construction including the water supply solution currently averages Rs 20,000 per household. Gram Vikas helps villagers to utilise funds from Government schemes, provides some grant funding but also insists on individual contributions. Another mandatory condition : the entire village has to adopt the water & sanitation solution, which ensures good Hygeine and dignity for all.

The team of Gram Vikas has done yeoman work in Odisha since 1971 in a variety of areas. For Joe and his team this has now become a Mantra : literally the Movement & Action for Transformation of Rural Areas.

For me their work in Water & Sanitation was most impressive – but I was also captivated by the aesthetics of their work, as evident from their beautiful campus. In a state where most tribal homes are a work of art, Gram Vikas fits in seamlessly.

That evening we celebrated New Year’s Eve on the train. Alcohol and tobacco are strictly forbidden for obvious reasons, but this was not the reason for the subdued spirits. The tragic death of another young person hung over the train, and has been the subject of many conversations over the past days.

We spent New Year’s Day in the train, traveling without breaking journey, across the country. This provided the opportunity to reflect on all we had seen so far and to catch up on incomplete conversations !

This morning we arrived in Patna. Anticipating cold wave conditions the Yatris were bundled up in woollens, but were pleasantly surprised at the moderate temperature.

We spent the day with Arbind Singh and his team at Nidan. A student of sociology and law, Arbind returned after his studies to Bihar, and made a simple observation. Most NGO’s had offices in cities and projects in remote rural areas. They somehow forgot to notice the poverty and problems that existed right around them. He therefore started Nidan to focus on the urban poor. Their support to Street vendors, Rickshaw pullers, rag pickers, domestic workers and slum dwellers is legendary and has now expanded to several other states.

After spending the morning with the Nidan team, we split into smaller groups to visit their projects. I spent the afternoon with 3 young girls in the Yarpur Ambedkar colony. Nidan has contracted with the Bihar Government and DFID UK, for the development of this slum, that borders the main railway line from Howrah to Delhi.

The friendship between these three young girls and the way they showed me around their colony and shared their dreams touched me deeply. Ujala Praveen a young 15 year old is the daughter of a sweeper earning Rs 4000 a month. Her mother is a housewife and is constrained by a conservative and much older husband, from working outside the house. But their home is beautifully decorated and she shares and encourages her daughter’s dream of becoming a teacher.

Ujala’s best friend is Gunja Kumari, the 16 year old daughter of a rickshaw puller. One of 5 children she dropped out of school early. Ujala shares her lessons with her, encouraging her friend to study. Tagging along behind them, is 11 year old Nasreen, who lost her mother at the age of 4. The child of an alcoholic father she is protected by her grandmother, but school is not an option as she has to take care of two younger siblings.

Theirs is not an easy life. Of all their travails, the hardest is the lack of toilet facilities. There is one Sulabh Sauchalay for the entire basti, and it is in a very poor shape. The destination for daily ablutions is therefore the adjoining railway track. We listen with horror as people recount the number of victims run over on the tracks.

As the train pulls out of Patna, I reflect on the thread that connects the role models we have recently visited. Each of them has converted their concern for others, into tangible actions that give others both hope and dignity. There can be no better way to start the new year than to spend it in the company of such people.



Timelines, Lifelines & Lifetimes : Jagriti Yatra II


Today is Day 6 of our journey. Over the past three days we have interacted with a number of Role Model Institutions in Bangalore, Madurai and on the outskirts of Chennai.

The Yatris use an interesting Ice breaker to get to know other participants. Through a process called Timeline, each individual describes on a graph, the highs and lows of their lives so far.

Not surprisingly, given how bright (and young !) they are, most define their achievements and disappointments in academic terms. However there are others who seem to have lived a lifetime in their short timelines.

I listened with horror to the young engineer who described how he was called in to identify a friend who had succumbed to family pressure to excel in studies, and laid himself down on a railway track. Many of the young Yatris share heart breaking stories of the loss of a beloved parent. And there are the uplifting stories of those who have contributed in break through ways to their colleges, communities and villages.

The sharing of stories builds a bond that grows closer in the confines of our moving home. Time and space are both limited and the schedule is a tight one. The train has been chartered from the Indian Railways and slots on the destination Railway platforms have a precise and finite time limit. Miss them and there are not just financial penalties – but a cascading effect on the entire schedule.

Early morning starts ( typically 5.30 to 6 am) are followed by breakfast either on the train or platform. The group then heads to the Role Model Institution, for an on-site visit. On return to the train each evening, different groups present critiques of the Institution to the larger Group. Two chair cars linked back to back and connected by Video and Audio act as the Conference room for upto 200 Yatris ! Those who are unable to join the Chair car sessions, crtique the role models in smaller groups in Compartment sessions. Discussions are intense & critical. The quality of presentations is impressive, with an innovative use of music, poetry (Urdu shairi rules the day !) and drama, in addition to Power point presentations

The Role model Institutions have been well picked, reflecting the diversity of Social and Business enterprise across India.

In Bangalore, on Day 3 we camped at the Infosys campus in Electronic city. The iconic status of Infy and the strong foundation of values on which it is based is well known – but still very impressive for the Yatris to see and experience in person. The question that was raised, and on which we failed to find an answer on was why the Infy model ( a start-up collaborative, non-family dominated venture that grew to be a global giant) seems so unique and why it has not yet been replicated in India.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon, also joined us at the Infosys campus. The simplicity with which she described her personal journey and how this intertwined with the story of Biocon captivated all of us. The female Yatris were particularly pleased to have the opportunity to interact with a lady who had built a globally recognised Pharmaceutical firm – a truly iconic role model for women in India.

The afternoon was spent with the Millennial entrepreneurs of India’s Silicon Valley – young Indians born in the decade preceding the new Millennium, who have built highly successful Internet companies. They shared their personal Timelines through the lifetime of their new companies, in a highly engaging Panel discussion.

Phani (Phanindra Sama) of Red Bus, shared how a personal pain point in 2005 led to the birth of his firm. Driven by the aim of creating a solution to reduce wasted opportunities (a trip for the customer, a seat for the bus operator, and a commission for the agent) he has set up India’s most efficient bus booking system.

Richa of Zivame, set up an online Lingerie portal, driven by the determination to make lingerie buying in India, a respectful, respectable and comfortable experience. Started in 2011, Zivame broke even in 4 months and is today the largest seller of Women’s inner wear in India – online or offline. Her mission : Every Indian woman will have the right to the right fit !

Mekin Maheshwari, Head of Engineering at Flipkart, shared his personal journey to joining the wildly successful portal. His simple insight into Flipkart’s philosophy : If you don’t take care of your customer, someone else will. More subtle and equally powerful was the insight his story provided into what it takes for a start up to attract the right talent, without whom an enterprise will remain a still-born dream.

We journeyed overnight to Madurai and spent Day 4 trying to understand the Vision of Aravind Eye Care and the process by which they go about accomplishing their mIssion of Eradicating needless blindness. The Yatris had the opportunity to interact with Doctors, nurses and patients; visit the hospital, village and community vision centres; and the Research Aurolab centre. The spirit of Dr Govindappa Venkatasamy (Dr V as he is still referred to) clearly permeates the entire organisation. A powerful example of how a business model driven by human welfare can be self sustaining and profitable.

Yesterday, on Day 5, we awoke on arrival, to the most beautiful railway station I have ever seen ! Chengalpattu station is situated on the edge of Lake Kolavai. The railway tracks lie adjacent to water hyacinths and migratory birds nesting on the fringes of a lovely lake, covered in mist, and bordered by hills in the distance…Am amazed and deeply grateful to the far sighted railway officials who have not obstructed this surreal view – and hope the station will continue to remain untouched.

We spent the day with R Elango, in Kuthambakkam village, about 30 kms from Chennai. Inspired by the 73rd amendment and the introduction of the Panchayati Raj Act, he was elected as the Gram Pradhan of his village in 1996. In his first term he addressed the infrastructure challenges of his village : roads, housing, schooling and water. Elected un- opposed for a second term in 2001, he started tackling social issues such as the ills of alcoholism and caste. The vehicle – Women’s empowerment through Self Help groups. His dream : Reconstruct India by reconstructing our villages.

As the train continues on its journey around India, the timelines and lifetimes of these Role models give us a sense of abiding hope…India and Indians will emerge stronger despite the cynicism and despair that presently seems to surround us.



In the Shadow of Dreams – Jagriti Yatra


A train journey of 9000 kilometres around India with 450 young aspiring entrepreneurs – the idea was intriguing…

My journey to the Jagriti Yatra started on Gandhi Jayanti this year. Invited to address the Yatris at a function on 2nd Oct, at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, I was captivated by the passion and energy of the young people who filled the room. Drawn from all over India, they shared how their experience on the Yatra had transformed their perspective and in some cases their lives.

Inspiring as the stories of the journey were, what was really interesting was the theme : Building India through Enterprise. This then, was more than just a fun exercise in experiential learning – Yatris were selected both on the basis of their ideals and their dreams – of a better India driven by entrepreneurship.

The idea of the trip was to provide an immersive learning experience (live in sleeper class compartments on a train for 15 days); visiting role model institutions (from Infosys in Bangalre to the Barefoot college in Tilonia Rajasthan); using Case study methodology (intensive Group discussions within Cohorts designed to be diverse) and building a support network of like minded individuals who care deeply about building a better India.

I was hooked ! This seemed a perfect continuum of the journey I had begun in April, to the villages of India. So I signed on to be a Resource person for the 2012 Yatra that commenced on December 24.

Through my blogs over the next 15 days, I would like to share some of the vignettes of this fascinating journey.

Today is Day 3 and we have covered about 800 kms.

We started on the Eve of Christmas from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai, after a day of orientation at TISS. Christmas Day was spent on the train, getting to know each other, and adjusting to our new home.

The Yatris are an interesting bunch : 375 aspiring entrepreneurs aged 20-25, and 75 slightly older participants who form the organising and facilitating team, many of whom are ex-Yatris themselves.

This year 18000 registrations were received for the Yatra, of whom 375 participants were finally selected. 35 are international participants representing 12 countries. The Indian participants are drawn from 24 Indian states. 39% are female and 57% come from semi urban and rural backgrounds.

The chemistry between Yatris is fun to watch – adjustments as people jostle for space : physical, mental and philosophical !

Yesterday we disembarked for the first time, and journeyed from Dharwad station in Karnataka to the small village of Kalkeri. There, at a unique residential school for children from the poorest families, we witnessed a modern day Gurukul.

It was started 10 years ago by a group of young Canadian, French and Indian musicians, united by a passion for music and for bringing about social change. Today the school houses 200 children, half of whom are girls, and many of whom come from single parent families or are orphans.

The children are taught classical Hindustani music, Bharat Natyam, and Drama, in addition to the regular school curriculum of the Karnataka state syllabus. The quality of education provided to the children was immediately evident as the young girls and boys, many no older than 5 or 6, came up to the Yatris and confidently start conversing in English. When they performed on stage – singing classical hymns; playing the tabla, harmonium or sitar; the performances were so professional that it was hard to believe they were just children.

The vision, that guides the teachers, is simple but beautiful : they believe that by providing opportunity you provide hope. So they try to create opportunities for these children to realise their musical dreams…

At the Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya we met 2 role model institutions who shared their stories and their business model.

The first was SELCO, which has had unique success in carrying solar solutions to the remotest part of rural Karnataka. The second Toe Hold Artisans, a co- operative of Kolhapuri chappal manufacturers from the village of Athini in Karnataka – a wonderful example of how powerful transformational change can be driven at the grass roots.

The Yatris will discuss, critique and present these Case Studies over the next two days to the larger group. As we listen in to their discussions, their perspectives and conversations are fascinating and often unexpected !

But everywhere is a common thread – the thread of dreams that range from changing India and serving our people, to building businesses that will be global giants.

As I walk through the compartments, I feel as if I am walking in the shadow of these dreams…and as these young Yatris awake to their full potential, and start realising these dreams, India will be a better place.