Another Optimist

Deepak Parekh is the Chairman of the Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC). By now, the corporation has financed over six million homes. Therefore, when he was presented the Citizen of Mumbai Award, it was a Rotarian who suggested, “He should be honoured not only as a citizen of Mumbai, but as a citizen of India.”

As the speaker last Tuesday, he opted to talk about the changing face of the city.

However, he did clarify, “I’ve not chosen this topic to state the obvious, that the city’s infrastructure is crumbling – or the city’s infrastructure has already crumbled – or that we’ve recently earned the title of being the fourth most polluted megacity in the world.” Instead, his intentions were exactly the opposite, since he truly feels optimistic about the future of Mumbai. Thus, he believed that it was worthwhile to spend some time talking about some good changes that are happening in our city.

The reason for his optimism is due to the changes in the system implemented by the government currently in power. For example, the change in the system for bidding contracts: All government tenders are now done through e-auctions. “One can confidently say that the days of exchanging brown envelopes with your friendly minister – under the table, over the table, or through the table – is clearly of the past.” Although corruption is still deeply rooted and entrenched, high-level corruption in the centre has been weeded out, and a large part of this is due to the bidding process.

As a Rotarian, he has always found resonance with the club’s secular and altruistic efforts. But in corporate India, even when the intention is to do something good for the community, often there are many roadblocks and hurdles to face. Nevertheless, this optimist still believes that “some of the key megaprojects currently underway will certainly change Mumbai’s landscape for the better.”

At present, the city seems completely defaced due to the construction of a metro line. Yet due credit must be given to the way in which the tenders were given out. There were seven international companies that were each given a contract. This ensured that the work began simultaneously across the city. One hopes that by 2021 the project will be complete and ease traffic congestion.

The other significant project is the Mumbai Trans- Harbour Link. The need to link the island city with the mainland was recognised in the 70s, but on a positive note, “The jinx of failed bids has been broken, and the target year for completion is 2022.” So that explains why the project has been called the Inordinately Delayed Marvel.

The Greenfield Navi Mumbai Airport is another ambitious project, poised to handle 60 million passengers by 2030. However, one has to find a way of rehousing the projectaffected families. Finally, the last mega-project that is going to change the landscape of the city is the 30 km coastal road from Marine Lines to Kandivali. One can expect it to be on the map by 2022.

In discussing these megaprojects, he also touched upon a very important question, “Why is it that we cannot strike a balance between development and preserving the environment?” The reason he suggests is that Mumbai is an island city that lacks land, yet reclamation is considered a taboo. While China and Japan have only been able to expand their cities by way of reclamation, “I’ve always been a strong believer that reclamation and sustainability go hand in hand.” Thus, it is a question of changing the mindset of the citizens.

This quick assessment brought Deepak Parekh to the end of his speech. But he did leave us with a confession. “With [this club’s] collective wisdom of ninety years, could all of you not have picked a worthier Rotarian than me for the Citizen of Mumbai Award? This is a city with 22 million people and I’m still wondering, ‘Why me?’”