City cries for help, even as JCB digs deeper

Let us take the case of Mumbai the El Dorado of every career-seeker, a city known for turning dirt to gold.
Bulldozers in action during the recent drive against encroachments. (File| Express)
Bulldozers in action during the recent drive against encroachments. (File| Express)

How do we know if a city is dying? Take a look around. Is yours on the list? 

A city dies much like we humans do. Most humans, exceptions aside, as they age, gain weight, become slower, heavier, more ungainly in their movements. And of course respiratory and other troubles walk alongside. A city that grows beyond its potential suffers a similar fate. Too many buildings, too much infrastructure can load a city. Buildings mean people, people need food, water and jobs. Jobs imply transport, and upward mobility. Which means vehicles. 

Let us take the case of Mumbai the El Dorado of every career-seeker, a city known for turning dirt to gold. The stories of those who have built empires from scratch are legion and continue to draw generations hoping to find the end of the rainbow here. Some find their pot of gold, innumerable others make-do. Few return, for the city is a drug, once its heartbeat of hope has entered the bloodstream.

And the city cannot but spread itself, growing more ungainly to accomodate the ever-burgeoning populace, adding suburbs and high-rises and metro tracks and flyovers to allow the increasing number of vehicles that ferry people in and out; the system begins to crumble. As it is with people who over-indulge in food and drink; so it is with cities. A city can only take so much.

Cracks begin to show that the system is failing. Despite heavy rains, water is already diminishing in the lakes at a level that signals cuts will be required in the future. The constant plummeting and pounding on roads and ground, as builders erect entire colonies of high-rises and public works build infrastructures of the future, threaten our present with shortages. Water, we know, is the next big challenge, but shortage of clean air seems to be a new reality.

For the second year running, Mumbai has overtaken Delhi, which till recently was among the top five most polluted cities in the world. The dust created by earth diggers and movers, the debris of cement and other material that floats in the air has created a smog that threatens the health of every citizen, rich or poor, old or young. Festivals like Diwali and weddings, cricket matches and elections, all of which have mandatory bursting of crackers, add their bit of poison.

With two vital life-giving needs compromised, can a city survive? Who then will occupy the luxury homes that flash their tempations from the front pages of newspapers? And how long will the masses, rushing to and fro catching trains and buses and metros, be able to survive the invasion of particulate matter into their lungs? And from where will the occupants of the high-rises fetch the water to drink?

The writing is on the wall. Someone needs to call a stop. To pause and take stock. The city is dying, unless its inhabitants and governance can join hands to save it. 

Sathya Saran

Author & Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House

saran.sathya@gmail.com

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