The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) ambitious coastal road plan has run into obstacles. As the series of stories in city newspapers lately highlight, various groups with specific interests have raised several objections.

This will undoubtedly have caused a flutter in the municipal corporation’s headquarters, which is intent on fast-tracking this project, citing it as a major leap to improve commute and life in the city.

A slew of infrastructure and other development projects have been announced in recent weeks, but the coastal road, which has been in the planning stages for much longer, remains the pre-eminent one.

Fisherfolk who claim will be directly affected by this road, residents of buildings dotting the coastal stretch in the new plan, as well as environmental activists have joined hands to put up a consolidated protest.

In its Thursday edition, this newspaper reported that more than 35,000 fisherfolk and their families, living in koliwadas between Cuffe Parade and Versova, have threatened to boycott the impending Lok Sabha elections because of infra projects on the anvil.

These are the coastal road, the 300-acre park and the Shivaji Memorial — all to be constructed on land reclaimed from the sea where they ply their boats for fishing.

They say that authorities have been indifferent to their pleas about their livelihood being affected.

The high court bench of chief justice Naresh Patil and justice Nitin Jamdar, as this newspaper reported in its Thursday edition, has already chimed in with a warning to the BMC that “rehabilitation of fishermen” must be the priority in such a big project.

It is speculated that the number of aggrieved fisherfolk can swell to 1,00,000 or more who will not want to exercise their franchise.

Add other dissident groups if they take the same stand, and the figure could go to 2,00,000-plus.

In a megapolis like Mumbai, which has over 15 million people, this is still a measly number and unlikely to affect political parties that much. But the immediacy of elections is not germane to the issue.

While extremely important, elections are transitory. What’s more significant is people feeling deprived and bearing rancour.

Unless this is tackled sensitively, the sense of grievance can tell on the city’s ethos. And one dare say, subsequent elections.

If long term benefits entail short-term hardships, these need to be spelt out in detail to those affected. This becomes even more pertinent when livelihood is on the line as the fisherfolk have claimed.

The formation of the group protesting the coastal road currently may seem unusual, for these constituents are not normally on the same page where developmental projects are concerned. This in itself should be a signal to the BMC that something is remiss.

Experience around the world suggests all mega projects run into teething troubles. Some may be based on reasonable grounds, some may not, which makes it even more important to find consensus.

There is no doubt that Mumbai needs massive overhaul and improvement in infrastructure. The coastal road is being touted as a game-changer. It may well be. But it is incumbent on authorities to explain the need and ramifications of such projects with utmost clarity and transparency.

Careful and necessary tweaking and adjustments, some give and take, can turn objections into approvals. Not an easy task admittedly, and best done only by experts who have a robust reputation in their area of expertise.

Even well-intending politicians and bureaucrats, I’m afraid, enjoy low trust among most citizens in such matters.

Where authority can play a crucial role is in ensuring that issues and problems are not swept under the carpet through executive fiats.

The virtue of enlightened governance lies in taking all interest groups along by hearing their demands, accepting what makes sense, convincing them otherwise of what doesn’t.

That makes it a win-win for all concerned.

First Published:
Mar 15, 2019 00:00 IST

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