HEART OF THE MATTER
The Metropolis, February 4 – 5, 1995

The city may have its shortcomings when compared to other emerging global capitals, but it is perhaps the only one with a soul, says Dr. Hiru Bijlani

Bombay has been through the centuries - and no doubt continues to be - the gateway to India, as the magnificent edifice adjacent to the Taj Mahal Hotel will bear ample testimony. The moot question, however, is whether Bombay will stand on its own as an important global capital on the lines of some of the emerging capitals of Asia such as Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore, Djakarta, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

To determine whether it is, or can become one, one would have to look at the various factors that into the making of a truly global capital. One has to therefore look at such factors as infrastructure, financial services, security, environment friendliness, basic amenities like schools, hospitals, sports facilities, pubic transport and more advanced facilities such as hotels, clubs, entertainment, theatre, arts, advanced education, quality of airport, and the like. Last but not least, one would also look at the soul of the place and its people.

In so far as infrastructure is concerned, one could look at its various components. The suburban train services are fairly efficient. The ever burgeoning population, however puts an immense strain the system, and, as a result, the commuting public doesn't travel in comfort. Thus, to meet the needs of the people who travel by trains from the suburbs to the city, there is a great need for the creation of a major underground system or an elaboration of the existing system through whatever means possible.

The improvement in roads, through significant, has been at a snail's pace. There is also a dire need for expansion of the highway of the highway networks across the oceans. That has been talked about for long, but nothing concrete has emerged so far. Bangkok, which reached a near breaking-point some time ago, is now beginning to lighten up as a result of the various highways built.

And it is of particular importance to control the beggar menace. It makes no sense to have certain slum colonies supplied with electricity, water and voters enlisted, but yet not provide them with amenities like toilets and not make attempts to make shanties more livable. On the other hand, it is also important to eliminate the possibility of proliferation of more slums, which are a big deterrent to the development of a good global capital.

The basic amenities Bombay offers in terms of hospitals, schools, restaurants, cinema houses, sports facilities and playgrounds were fairly adequate till about a decade ago, but the increase in population has again put much strain on these.

The advanced facilities for international executives, such as good clubs, restaurants, hotels, a modern airport, good residential localities, offices, schools, theatre, arts and music, are comparable to the best in Asia, except for our airport, which needs to be expanded and upgraded.

 

The telecom sector has made dramatic progress since the early '80s. We have switched over to the electronic exchanges and related services such as facsimile and electronic mail. Telephone exchange operators servicing international clients, however, need to be trained in language skills.

The financial services sector in Bombay has been expanding at a rapid pace, in terms of numbers, services and the level of refinement. We are rapidly moving towards global standards. Notwithstanding the limitations of the Bombay Stock Exchange, we are getting there quite rapidly.

The level of education, training and skills in Bombay is comparable to the best in the world, with people available at reasonable prices compared o other emerging global capitals.

Talking of infrastructure, one cannot help commenting on the hawkers occupying large portion of pavements. The Nariman Point Office Owners' Association recently decided to stop paying municipal taxes until the municipality cleared the hawkers in the area, a clear indication of how things have come to a breaking point.

The government's role in fostering a healthy relationship with business and industry and creating a positive image of a global capital has undergone a sea change since liberalisation began, with the government taking keen interest in encouraging foreign investment and being more investor friendly.

This must permeate to all levels of the government apparatus through concerned training programmes. There is a need for yet greater interaction between government and industry for working together to develop a global capital.

It is important for citizens to arise and work in cooperation with the government. There are a few people who actually take an active interest in civic matters, and their numbers should increase. This is especially so, as the government, besides its limited will and frequent diversions such as crises and elections, has limited resources and needs to be supported by the people of Bombay.

Bombay's biggest advantage over most global capitals in the world is that it is a city with a soul. Many expatriates who first come to Bombay hate the thought of being in this miserable country called India, with its millions of poor, diseased and illiterate people, only to find themselves bidding a tearful farewell when it is time to go back to another posting. The reason for this is twofold: one Bombay has the best of both the worlds in the form of relatively low-priced assistance that takes away the daily grind of life with help at home and at the office, where one lives fairly luxuriously compared to other places.

Second, the great Indian tradition of hospitality to its guess is something that cannot be found anywhere in the world.

Bombay's people are its biggest strength, and their entrepreneurship enterprise and calibre are difficult to find elsewhere. It is India's great cosmopolitan city. It is time for the common people, industrialists and the government to work together and make Bombay a global capital which may not be quite as cut-and-dried as Singapore, but may be closer to Bangkok or Djakarta.

 

Page 8 of 23