Let the Vikrant be a wake up call


As you watch this video, I am sure you will feel the same sense of disbelief and anguish that I did.

On Friday 21 November, we were escorting a group from the Press through Haji Bundar and Darukhana to share with them the problems and potential of our PortLands. We had just trudged past the coal mountains and had paused to spend the sunset with the magnificent Vikrant.

The sight before us brought us to an abrupt halt. Blow torches were cutting through the hull of the Vikrant and a few minutes later we saw her bite the dust, before our eyes.

http://youtu.be/RvtwM_jJeZU

A few weeks ago, Munna bhai, the scrap merchant who had purchased the ship for Rs 63 crores had called and asked for a meeting. He explained that as far as he was concerned scrapping the Vikrant was simply business. “Try and understand” he said, “by trying to save the ship you are costing me money”

Undeterred, a small group of us intensified our efforts to save this iconic ship: we sought and received the support of 3 of the senior most former Chiefs of Naval staff : Admiral Tahiliani, Admiral Nadkarni and Admiral Ramdas. They were confident that a letter signed jointly by them, suggesting a practical and commercially viable solution to saving the Vikrant, would not go unheard by the Powers that be. Sadly, even as that letter was on its way, the Vikrant, a precious symbol of India’s maritime heritage, was being cut to pieces.

In a city where money talks – voices that speak for the future are often silenced, or go unheard, until it is too late.

We have witnessed this in our MillLands. We have seen this with the Vikrant. Let us join hands to make sure that this does not happen with our PortLands.

Let the loss of the Vikrant be a wake up call.

As she goes to her grave, in a ship-breaking yard in the heart of South Mumbai, let us join hands to protest the toxic poisons, that the water, air and soil of Mumbai – and each of us, is being exposed to. We could not save the Vikrant – at least let us try and save ourselves.

We can stop the dumping of coal in Haji Bundar. We can stop the ship breaking in Darukhana. We can stop the disastrous Offshore Container Terminal that will choke the arteries of our city. And we can regenerate the PortLands to provide a precious Green lung for our children.

If you feel strongly about this please join the PortLands movement.

Please come to the PortLands exhibition on Thursday 27th Nov, at Kala Ghoda, and see how the vision of young Mumbaikars, has aligned with the best design principles in the world, to present an alternative future for our city.

IMC_exhibition_poster_A4_finalIK

Please share this message as widely as you can.

If every Mumbaikar embraces our PortLands, then no vested interest, no matter how powerful, can destroy this last remaining hope for the future of our city.

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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.

Crossing Lines to get Mumbai back on track…


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The trains are very crowded and terribly delayed,” apologised my very punctual executive assistant, “I missed 7 or 8 trains, finally managing to get into one by the skin of my teeth”. It was the day of the Western Railway tracks’ AC/DC conversion. No one knew what the fault was. Some attributed it to a crow short-circuiting the wires.

I dwelt no more on it, till that afternoon, when I received a chilling phone call. A young member of our staff, working in our Nariman Point branch, had failed to come to work and calls to his cell phone had yielded no response. While his colleagues were still trying to trace him, his parents received a call at about 3 pm, from the police, asking them to identify his phone number. When they did so, they were informed that all that remained of their son was the sim card in his crushed mobile.

A few weeks later, we lost a second team member to a similar accident. These were not careless young people, but responsible and mature individuals. They died simply because their daily commute in a jam-packed compartment, with people spilling out of open doors, proved too dangerous.

To some, the annual death toll of approximately 4,000 Mumbaikars on our suburban rail lines is a rounding error— after all, millions travel every day. To the parents and families of these young men, as indeed to the families of every person who travels on the efficient but overcrowded Suburban train network, these unnecessary deaths are symptomatic of the failure of governance in our city.

In terms of human capital, Mumbai ranks amongst the best cities in the world. Its infrastructure ranks amongst the worst. There seems to be no thought or planning in terms of meeting the basic requirements of Mumbai’s citizens.

Why is this so and how can it change? Is there a constructive way forward? I believe there is. The choices and decisions we make can help either aggravate the problems or enable solutions. At a macro level, this starts with who we choose to govern our city, state and country. Despite decrying our leaders incessantly, Mumbai’s voter turnouts leave much to be desired. If we are absent during elections, it shouldn’t surprise us that our government functions in absentia. At a micro level, our individual choices can make a big difference to our collective life. How we consume, save or waste water is one example; how we dispose, recycle, segregate or compost garbage is another.

As far as public transport is concerned, there is no doubt that policymakers need to prioritise infrastructure upgrades. In the meantime, can we, as citizens, play a part in changing Mumbai’s transport landscape? Shared below are three thoughts that I believe can help make a difference :

1) Redefine the Work Paradigm: Mumbai is no longer a manufacturing hub. The majority of our people work in the services industry. Technology today makes it possible for us to work in our own time and space while being perfectly efficient and connected. If corporates empower and enable staff to work from home and measure them on deliverables and outcomes instead of hours spent in office, we could add hours of productive time to their day, reduce the pressure on public transport and save costs in addition.

2) Be Pedestrian: Think for a moment of the thousands of commuters who exit VT and Churchgate every morning in the monsoon. After a harrowing train ride, they have to dodge potholes and traffic while struggling to keep dry. If instead, they had air-conditioned underground or elevated walkways, how much more comfortable this would be and how much more productive they’d be at work.

3) Think Flexible: In the foreseeable future, fuel prices are headed only one way—upwards. Car pools for those of us who need to drive have long been a sensible way to optimise costs. Communication technology now makes it possible to widen the pooling community across the city, making it possible for strangers to share cars effectively.

Much is said about the spirit of Mumbai. Through hell and high water, through bomb blasts and floods, Mumbai continues unflinchingly. The work ethic of our city surpasses that of any other city that I have lived or worked in. In and of itself, the fact that our children resume school and their parents go to work, despite the disasters that other cities have nightmares about, speaks volumes about both the character and courage of every Mumbaikar.

It is time that our city’s infrastructure is upgraded to match up to its spirit.

The above article was published in the July 9 2012 issue of Outlook magazine with the cover Who Killed my Mumbai and is shared with their consent.

Holy Cows and Wild Silk


washing cows near Alleppey, Kerala, India

Image via Wikipedia

Today I came across two wonderful & inspiring stories. Though seemingly un-correlated, they had the common thread of sustainability, running through them.

The first concerned our Holy Cow, and in particular the tiny Vechur cow, native to Kerala. It is the world’s smallest cattle breed  – a full-grown cow stands only 90 com high ! It nevertheless yields up to 3 litres of milk a day and requires very little by way of feed or maintenance.

In an article in the Hindu, P Sainath explains how several native breeds of Bos Indicus (native Indian cattle) have been driven to near extinction by the misplaced enthusiasm to promote cross-bred cattle. In Kerala, the Livestock Improvement Act of 1961, gave the licensing officer the power to order castration of bulls of native species. A farmer ordered to do so had to comply within 30 days. An amended act in 1968 mandated fines and imprisonment for those who failed to comply. No surprise then, that by 2000, the Vechur was on the FAO’s “Critical maintained Breeds List” (to qualify the number of breeding females is less than 100; or the number of breeding males is less than 5; or the overall count is 120 and falling)

Dr Sosamma Iype, retired Professor from the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), led the drive to save the Vechur. In 1988, she started a search for Vechur survivors; found and bought 8 animals, and saved the breed from certain extinction. The Vechur Conservation trust she founded in 1998, now promotes the cause of not just the Vechur but other Kerala breeds of cattle, goats, pigs and ducks !

Says Chandran Master, a former English teacher who has devoted his life to preserving indigenous cattle breeds, on the official mind-set on cattle “The cow for them is just a milk production machine. Their view has no room for the composition and quality of milk. Much less for the role of cattle in agriculture and in a farmer’s life. None at all for the impact on the environment, diversity or community” 

The second story is that of Rashmi Bharti, who today received the Janki Devi Bajaj Award, for the best woman rural entrepreneur of 2011.

In 1997, along with her husband, Rashmi set up a Voluntary organization called Avani in a remote part of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Started as a chapter of Bunker Roy‘s Barefoot college of Tillonia, Avani now covers 101 villages helping villagers to make a respectable living, while continuing to stay in their villages. 

In 2005 Avani founded Earthcraft – a cooperative venture that now works under the management of local villagers, to produce among other things, exquisite silk fabrics and garments from wild silks. Silk cocoons are collected in the wild, from local plant species – Eri, Tussar and Muga. The silk is mostly hand spun and produced from pierced cocoons after the moth has escaped and hence qualifies as ahimsa or non violent silk.

Their products have been showcased at the Ethical fashion show in Paris, and are recognised as a green brand : hand spun, hand-woven, naturally dyed, zero waste, entirely organic, and fair price ! They have succeeded through high quality, green products, that have their roots in the community but reach out to the modern and sophisticated customer.

Avani and Earthcraft  have empowered women in these remote Kumaoni villages by making them economically self-reliant. It has become possible for families to live together for the first time in many generations. Lack of opportunities, in the past, had forced mass migrations of the men away from the villages, in search of work. The way of life of these hard-working people and their traditional skills in spinning, dyeing and weaving textiles were slowly but surely becoming as extinct as the Vechur cow.

The words of Chandran Master, when he describes the manner in which our official policies have treated the Holy cow, have a sad resonance in our attitude towards the traditional way of life in our villages. The popular belief in intellectual circles is that urbanisation is both inevitable and desirable.

My Lok Sabha campaign in 2009, took me through every alley of the slums, and chawls of South Mumbai. It gave me an insight into the desperate lack of dignity that our cities impose on the hard working migrants who come here seeking their livelihood. Since then I have questioned if this is the future we want for our people.

Rashmi’s work in making Kumaon’s villages self-sustaining, gives one hope that an alternative reality may be possible.

While accepting her award Rashmi compared EarthCrafts products to the hill women who produced them as being “steady, tough and beautiful !”

I can think of no better words to describe these two remarkable ladies – Dr Sosamma Iype, and Rashmi Bharti. With more women like them, not just our Holy Cows and Wild Silks, but our country itself would have a chance at a better future !