August 09, 2005

World-class vision

Vision Mumbai, the 2003 Bombay First-McKinsey report, is a sketch of what the city might look like, circa 2013. Here's a brief flavour.

To begin with, the report is subtitled "Transforming Mumbai into a world-class city," That tone runs through the report: "world-class" appears repeatedly, along with such phrases as "international benchmarks" and "vibrant international metropolis." Whatever it all means, these form parameters for the document. It's as if "international" must automatically get our attention.

It urges us citizens and our Government "to undergo a change in mind-set" rather than doing things the old way. This means we must stop "thinking of incremental improvement and debottlenecking"; instead, we have to "think of making step jumps" towards, yes, "world-class status."

Just jargon? Hard to tell. So you move to the nitty-gritty, and here's a sample of the features of Bombay that the report believes are the city's "aspirations":
  • There should be "at least one bus for every thousand people."
  • Triple the freeways/expressways we have today; public parking spaces increased by an order of magnitude.
  • Slum population down from the current 50-60 per cent of the city to 10-20 per cent.
  • Immensely improved quality of governance.
  • Ring rails and ring freeways that "all world-class cities have."
  • 1.1 million more low-income houses built.

Integral to achieving all this are a number of "quick wins" -- visible, high-profile projects, speedily implemented to generate public approval for the Vision. A table lists 23 quick wins, six are described at greater length separately. I was struck by which of these quick wins is first in each list.

In the table, quick win #1 is:
  • Improve airport ambience and emigration/immigration clearance.

This moves to #3 in the shorter list, where #1 is:
  • Beautify and decongest five north-south and five east-west corridors.

I mention these because I think they capture the thinking that's gone into this report. The airport's ambience needs to be improved, sure; but it's telling that nowhere on that list -- first, second, last, nowhere -- will you find this suggestion:
  • Improve railway station ambience and streamline ticketing procedure.

Why not? After all, many more people use the city's trains than the airport. Wouldn't some visible improvement for them be a major "quick win"? Or must they continue to struggle in crowded conditions while air travellers enjoy an "improved" ambience?

And of course corridors can stand to be decongested and beautified. (Though I am always suspicious of "beautified" in such contexts: too often, "beautify" means merely clearing slum dwellings). But this aims squarely at making road travel easier. Again, what about the numbers in this city who take the train?

Don't mistake me: I don't want to slam this report. After all, it is one effort, one vision, and it does say many things that need saying. And outside of the quick wins, there is some discussion of public transport. Besides, at least it's out there to be discussed and criticised by armchair men like me.

Yet when I read it in my armchair, I was left thinking it cannot succeed. For it carries an air of having been written for the upper-middle class car owner: the citizen who remains a minority here. Plans for the majority who don't and won't have cars, who must use public transport, are sketchy. (The sole mention of rail and bus among the quick wins is #8: "Beautify all landing places, including removing airport slums and railway encroachments; standardising bus shelters and creating bus bays where possible").

In truth, Vision Mumbai seems cursory about many realities of everyday life in Bombay, that the recent flood thrust in our faces.

Like: Half of the city lives in slum or street housing; garbage clearance is shoddy; drainage doesn't seem able to cope; only a fraction of the city flies in and out of the airport. Vision Mumbai doesn't persuade me that the Vision is founded on such things, as a starting point. This is where it is flawed.

So if we are looking ahead ten years, whether for India or Vile Parle or Bombay or somewhere else, what then should be the vision?

For me, two words must drive it, and neither is "world-class." Instead, I'm thinking of "livable" and "happiness." Or: any plan for the future must be founded on making it possible for citizens to live happy lives where they are. Work to make Bombay a livable city, put in place measures that make its citizens happy: start like that, and we will have a "world-class" city.

What's important is the spirit, the approach to this exercise of looking ahead.

And then the question is: can we build that city? Well, yes. But only, I suspect, if our first quick win is:
  • Improve railway station ambience and streamline ticketing procedure.


Postscript: Sorry, I can't believe I forgot to include this ... the Bombay First-McKinsey Vision Mumbai report is available here [PDF, large].

Note that it is termed "A Summary of recommendations." This seems to imply that there is a larger report that this summarizes; to my knowledge, there is no such larger report.


Anonymous said...


Great post. Maybe Bombay's nirvana lies in it becoming a city state.

There is a great post on the ACORN here that compliments what you write about on this topic

Anonymous said...

Ave old chap Dilip,

You forgot public toilets... those toilets. Rediff links to those pleasee..

Anonymous said...

I think the changes have to be from the root. It is a matter of setting the basic things right. Clean water, better drainage, enough electric supply and good city transport to name a few. I often say this- what good will the malls and multiplexes do when the government cannot even provide clean water to the city.

I liked your post :)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Neela, of course the quick wins were about ensuring support from those who have resources. No argument there. But as with liberalization, I'm beginning to think there's a need to find support from others. I have met people in this country who cannot see how the economic reforms helps them, even though they seem to be changing lives of the urban middle-class. I fear there will be similar sentiment about VM as currently set out.

Yes, it's true that the report does mention public transport and so forth. But my impression reading it is that those are less well-thought out, almost cursory.

Why is the key "implementation"? That assumes that this is the best way forward -- and yet how do we know that? It has been assigned a dynamic IAS officer to implement it, but it hasn't been subjected to any kind of review. There have been unofficial critiques, and from eminent urban planners and so forth, but the Government seems to have made up its mind about it. Why?

Incidentally, I don't think this was financed by taxpayers. Bombay First financed it, and I don't think BF is taxpayer-funded.

Arzan, I'm sceptical about the city state idea for this reason: what's the guarantee, in that change itself, that the new state will have better officials running it?

Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

Hmm. I think Boston is not a "world class" metropolis. No ring roads. Terrible parking situation. The entire town of Somerville (where I live and where Tufts is) is referred to as the Slummerville. Airport area is awful.

Actually London would fail pretty badly too. It does have M25, maybe that should count as a very large parking lot. Now that I think about it New York is definitely not "world class" either.

Anonymous said...


I beg to differ. NYC is what defines world class ! It may not have a spanking new airport, but it has 3 international ones (yes LGA is int'l now) and all work well. It may not have a ring road, but then all roads lead to NYC...ask the millions who commute in everyday.

And then it has a lot of things most other cities dream of...Arts and Culture Capital of the World. Arguably, two of the top 5 museums in the world, financial capital of the world, neighborhoods that are part of world folklore.

The subway system is the biggest in the world and twice bigger than the second biggest. 460 odd subway stations.

What more ??

It is one thing to judge a city by the physical amenities and their physical condition, and it is quite another to take the whole package and judge it by the experience.

Dilip D'Souza said...


Take one of those 8 points: build 1.1M low income houses.

Given the state of construction today, how is this going to translate into reality? (For some idea of the numbers involved, see this that I put up a few days ago).

Yes, housing, and specially rental housing is urgently required, and yes, the report speaks of that in some detail. But how do you ramp up production two- and three-fold? The report itself points out that current production will create a shortfall of 950K low income houses in ten years.

This report is not the place to discuss such a ramp up, you think? But I would argue that it is, because that is precisely the problem we are faced with: how do you produce enough housing to meet the demand?

It's not that I don't agree with the points. It's not that I am not in favour of the quick wins. It's hardly that it's McKinsey.

It's that this report reads too much as if it just drew together some desirable aims, without enough thought to just how we'll get there and what it means. I mean, as part of the 1.1M houses section, there's "increase land availability by 50-70 per cent" -- but how? "Reduce the average time taken to obtain a building approval" -- how? "Increase FSI" -- but it's the unchecked increase of FSI that has caused great headaches in the first place.


But if I had to put my finger on my greatest objection, it would probably be this: that the report has been accepted by the Government without any review. This vision is about my future. Why wasn't I consulted? Why wasn't given a chance to examine it before implementation began?

Neela, I hope this answers some of what you're asking too.

Finally, please respect the fact that I didn't call this an "elitist" report. It is hardly that.

Here is another discussion of the report in the light of the recent floods.

Gaurav said...

it carries an air of having been written for the upper-middle class car owner

This does sound like you are calling the report elitist.

Gaurav said...

As I commented on your blog before, I agree with you on opposition to the Sanjay-Gandhi approach to the slum problem. The people living in the slums are not moochers or free-loaders. They are vital cogs in the wheel of Mumbai. I understand that if all slums in Kalina are razed to the ground, I would have no kaamwaali bai, dhobi, and vegetable vendors, that too at such a cheap cost.

So let us take the question of how to increase land availability and make housing cheaper to solve the slum question.
"Reduce the average time taken to obtain a building approval" -- how?

Surely, this is not a very big "how". Other "hows", like "how do we increase land availability" are quite valid. But how to reduce average time taken to obtain an approval is not that tough to answer. The same way that average time taken for getting several industrial licenes, permits, quota approvals were reduced in a single swoop by Singh, Chidambaram & Ahluwalia.

Rescinding the ULCRA and Rent Control can also be done swiftly. See how swiftly the government brought in a legislation banning dance bars?

The FSI bit seemed OK to me, but I will reserve comment on that as of now because you have mentioned that unchecked FSI caused major headaches, and I don't know much about it. Will ask Yazad about it.

In general, the report, even this summary that you have linked to, has some pretty comprehesive answers to the "how"s. I think you are being very harsh to it.

About the local train system too, there are some very practical suggestions. Not mentioning the railway station ambience or ticketing system is pardonable. In one hour of train travel, the average Mumbaikar probably spends just about 5 minutes of his time on the station. He spends 55 minutes crammed in the train with a human density thrice of what is bearable. A huge number have passes, so even with long queues, one hour in 3-6 months goes into getting the pass. The priority should be to make those 55 minutes crammed in the train bearable, rather than improving the station ambience.

Look at the average flight traveller. He travels in comfortable airplanes, so improving the airplanes is not an issue. He however spends a lot of time on the airport itself.... in fact for many doemstic flights, he spends more time at the airport than in the air. So improving airport ambience is a lot higher in priority for an air-traveller than improving station ambience is for a train traveller.

Dilip D'Souza said...

it carries an air of having been written for the upper-middle class car owner

> This does sound like you are
> calling the report elitist.

Why? I'm an upper-middle class car owner and I don't consider myself elitist. Nor do I consider many other upper-middle class car owners elitist.

Elite, yes. Elitist, no. There is a difference.


elite: A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status.

elitist: The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

Chambers 21st also has this: "often derog awareness of, or pride in, belonging to an elite group in society."

There is a difference.

Dilip D'Souza said...


Sure this is a democracy. That's why I want to be heard.

I mean, here's a report about what my city is to be like, commissioned by a non-government body, prepared by a private consulting firm, offered to the Government. And before I even am aware of its existence, there's a committee formed to implement it, a bureaucrat put in charge, some aspects of it already taken up and finished (the airport, I believe)!

This is classic "we're the government and we know what's best for you so we'll do it". This is exactly the mai-baap attitude we've grown sick of through six decades of Independence. And yet when the Government does it with a report some of us like, then those people think it's fine. Why?

This may be food for another post, let's see...

Dilip D'Souza said...

Tanuj, do show me where I said the Government should reject every idea. I said, plans/visions (esp as major as VM) should be open to review and criticism before being implemented.

I never have liked the Government deciding what's good for me, and I don't like it now. Frankly, I would rather have a good plan stalled until it is reviewed and critiqued, than have the Govt decide for me.

About the other aspect, the desirable aims. What I meant, if I wasn't clear, is that desirable aims are fine, but how do we get there? I tried to use the example of 1.1M low cost houses -- a fine aim, to be sure. But how do you ramp up housing production three-fold? I am unable to see this. Without it, the aim is meaningless.

Anonymous said...

Reading this old post in May2008 thru a link to a link from Acorn. I agree with the drive of your post, esp. the conclusion abt prioritizing (I have often been struck by the way ppl deride an airport facility by calling it "as bad as an ST bus stand" ).

But I read the comment thread, and noted:

"Please respect the fact that I have not called this report elitist. It is hardly that"

Re-read the post. Back to your defn of elite/elitism.

Re-read the post again.

And here I am with a dull disappointment, a fuzzy sense of sensing unexpected and underwhelming fuzziness.

To end on a brighter note, I am glad you come across as much more direct and consistent nowadays.