This article is based on an interview published in the online issue of Mint-on-Sunday, March 27, 2016. Persons working in the field of public policy were asked to draw up a plan of what they would do if they are given One Billion Dollars!
We bring you some highlights of Mrs. Meera Sanyal’s vision of the policy initiatives she would undertake with a billion dollar, with specific reference to Mumbai, her hometown.
A billion dollar is approximately Rs.6900 crores. Is this sum enough to do something substantial in public policy in India? Yes, if spent wisely, a billion dollar can be a major catalyst and bring significant and long-term change. However, given the magnitude of scams and loan defaults making headlines, the amount does not seem large enough.
Here are some crucial public policy areas of concern:
Clean Politics and Good Governance
As Indians, we are great critics and analysts! It’s time to stop criticizing and to start participating actively and constructively in the democratic process.
Women hold up half the world and help create the other half! A financially, politically and socially empowered woman can create dramatic changes and work towards the betterment of the society.
Education, Skills and Entrepreneurship for the Youth
This can and should be the golden age for India. The question is, will we be able to enjoy the benefit of our demographic dividend or will this spiral into a demographic nightmare of unemployed and disillusioned young people? This is a major challenge and one that we as a nation have to tackle urgently.
Environment and Ecology
People often claim that the price we have to pay for economic growth is a damaged environment. This is a false argument of lazy minds. Our generation is the custodian for future generations and we are doing a very poor job of guardianship.
As India urbanizes, it is important that our cities are developed as inclusive, equitable and livable spaces. This is a battle we seem to be losing. The quality of life in our cities is very poor. We do not have enough schools, colleges or vocational centres to educate our children; there are no playgrounds; medical facilities are overcrowded; travelling to work is a hard and long journey; open spaces are inadequate and inaccessible … the list is endless.
Currently, in Mumbai, efforts are on to redevelop 1000 acres of port lands on the city’s eastern waterfront. If developed wisely, the land has the potential to transform the city with much needed open spaces and public amenities like schools, colleges, hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, sports facilities and much more. If we do not take action now, there is a danger of the land being usurped by unscrupulous builders and developers and that would be a fatal blow to the city.
The above policy areas are closely interconnected:
– Young people, today, are deeply concerned about environmental issues – both, in remote areas and in the cities.
– Skills and enterprise are closely linked with equity and empowerment.
– Increasingly, citizens across the country are realizing that they must raise their voice and participate actively in the democratic process if they want to ensure the future that they wish to have for their children and themselves.
Tapping the Potential of our Cities
Global experience shows that if a city is a ‘nice’ place to live in, talented people will flock there. Investment follows talent. With more investment, there are more jobs and more prosperity for all.
Such cities create a virtuous upward spiral. Affordable, aesthetic, livable environs attract talent, which attract investments, create jobs and growth which, in turn, will produce tax revenues that can be invested in better social and public amenities, to create a nicer environment, attract more talent and so on.
Investing the Billion Dollar for a better Mumbai
My billion dollar policy is to invest in the creation of an aesthetic, highly functional, and green public realm in Mumbai’s port lands. The port lands provide a space that can be redeveloped to create world-class public infrastructure and the much-needed social amenities and recreation spaces that Mumbai is starved of. We can build schools, colleges, vocational institutes, sports facilities, hospitals, libraries, parks, promenades, bicycle tracks, museums, trade and convention centres, to name just a few.
Erstwhile dock and port areas in New York, London and Barcelona have been redeveloped and, in the process, have transformed these cities. It is time Mumbai did the same and took its rightful place as the financial capital of Asia.
The redevelopment of these 1000 acres of Mumbai’s port lands can rejuvenate and revitalize the city, if redeveloped in a SMART way. Mumbai has no shortage of innovative, enterprising and talented people, but because it’s become so hard to live, study, work and breathe in Mumbai, our most talented people are seeking their future elsewhere.
Mumbai can and should be a major global hub for start-ups and entrepreneurs; for bankers and venture capitalists; for insurance and project finance; for commodity and stock exchanges; for fund management, derivatives, futures and options.
Having a thriving and vibrant commercial capital is an essential prerequisite for a prosperous country. For this to happen, we must be able to attract and retain talented people.
Thanks to the efforts of APLI (A Port Lands Initiative) Mumbai – a group of citizens, students, urban planners and architects – there is now political consensus that the port lands must be redeveloped.
The group’s perseverance has borne fruit. Public interest litigation filed before Mumbai High Court has halted the dumping of coal at Haji Bunder which would otherwise have been a major cause of pollution. The modernization plans of Sassoon Dock recommended by the group have received the government’s sanction and funds.
Still much needs to be done
Some salient features of the group’s recommendation to the government for the redevelopment of Mumbai’s port lands are public sea-facing promenades, east-west connectivity through roads, walkways, cycle tracks and parks, north-south and trans-harbour connectivity through passenger water terminals and affordable housing for people affected or displaced by government projects. Twelve distinct geographical neighbourhoods – based on the social, cultural and historical characteristics of each area – have been proposed. If these proposals are accepted, then the space cannot be encroached upon by millionaires’ skyscrapers or usurped by shopping malls.
In conclusion, a billion dollar can create an aesthetic, functional and citizen-centric public realm in Mumbai’s port lands that can act as the nucleus of a SMART, equitable and livable city.
Read the full text of the interview with breakdown figures of spending one billion dollar at http://mintonsunday.livemint.com/news/%E2%80%98a-highly-functional-green-public-realm-in-mumbais-port-lands/1.0.776800532.html
Meera Sanyal, former CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland, India stepped down to enter public life. She contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and 2014. She is a member of Aam Aadmi Party. E-mail: email@example.com
From FF Digital: Invitation for Mumbaikars to a conference on “Mumbai’s Portlands – From Vision to Action” to be held on May 23, 2016. For further details, kindly contact the office of Indian Merchants’ Chamber on telephone number 22046633, Extn. 624 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org