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Mumbai down the drain, feels India Inc

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July 30, 2005 11:35 IST

India Inc is nursing a deep sense of hurt and anguish over the inability of the country's financial capital to tackle natural calamities like this week's torrential downpour.

Corporate chieftains say some difficulties faced by citizens are understandable given the fact that the city had the highest single-day rainfall in almost 90 years, but what is inexplicable is the scale of the problem and the inability of the administration to handle it even three days after the rains stopped.

The collective feeling is: Mumbai is going down the drain.

Terrible Tuesday: Mumbai copes with a calamity

While a few like Aditya Birla group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla are measured in their response, saying, "We must collectively develop a system that can help us cope with such a crisis," others in private mock politicians' aspirations to turn the city into a Shanghai. "It's a cruel joke on us," says one corporate leader.

Securities and Exchange Board of India chairman M Damodaran says, "Mumbai badly needs a city government with an empowered Mayor to fight disaster."

Larsen & Toubro CEO and managing director A M Naik estimates the funds requirements at around $100 million if the city has to retain its acceptability. His priorities: the low-lying areas must be filled up and the mass rapid transportation system modernised.

Wockhardt chairman and managing director Habil Khorakiwala makes no bones about the fact that the emergency management system is a failure.

"The crisis deepened as there was a complete communication blackout. When the dam near Kalyan-Thane area had to be opened suddenly to avoid a burst, none of the affected areas was alerted. Industry godowns and units in the belt were badly damaged and the loss was enormous," he points out.

Nasser Munjee, chairman of the infrastructure committee of Bombay First, an NGO that has been working on developing Mumbai, plans to lead a public protest against the governance of the state.

"I am disgusted by government officials who have let down the citizens at a time of crisis! The government of Maharashtra cannot treat its people as its subjects to be ruled and remembered only at the time of tax collections or when a vote bank is required," he says in anger and disgust.

DSP Merrill Lynch chairman Hemendra Kothari is in favour of setting up a committee of senior citizens, management experts, business people and municipal bodies to chalk out a disaster management policy.

Drawing a parallel with the recent bomb blasts in London, Kothari of DSP Merrill Lynch says the city must have a crack disaster management team, which should react first, and quickly. Kothari has urged the state government to take steps to ensure the business community's participation in helping the suffering people.

A senior Hindustan Lever executive says the people of Mumbai needs to be saluted for their resilience. But the city, which gives so much to the central exchequer, must get back something, he feels.

Not all corporate chiefs are ready to put the blame on the government though.

"When you have a metre of rainfall in a matter of hours, any city in the world will go under," says Romesh Sobti, executive vice-president and country representative of ABN Amro Bank NV (India).

In Hong Kong, if the rainfall is 30-33 centimetres, the city is officially closed. "This is a completely stretched situation and it is difficult to point fingers. Normally, Mumbai drains off in six hours," he adds.

Meanwhile, the government on Friday said the Mumbai Airport, which became functional by Thursday has handled approximately 400 arrivals departures.

The collective feeling is: Mumbai is going down the drain.

Terrible Tuesday: Mumbai copes with a calamity

BS Bureaus in Mumbai