22nd June 2012
A Tale of Two States: Part I
I had the opportunity recently to call separately on the Chief Ministers of two Western Indian States, Maharashtra and Goa. In most respects these states could not be more different but they are both important, in a variety of ways, to the UK.
The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, underlined one difference to the High Commissioner and I when he pointed out that his state, if it was a nation, would rank as one of the world’s top 12 most populous, with over 110M citizens. The Chief Minister also pointed out that a great deal of Maharashtra is rural, and with the monsoon approaching (but currently too slowly) the State some 80 per cent of its agricultural land is dependent on a good season of rain for its crops, which include rice, cotton, grapes and much more.
But it is in Maharashtra’s cities that more of our interests lie, and the Chief Minister stressed the importance of international co-operation in developing new infrastructure. With an overall population around 18M, and a comparatively small land mass, Mumbai presents big challenges for the State. Unlike other major world cities, with mayors having substantial independent powers, most of the responsibility for new infrastructure rests with the State Government.
The Government has major plans to transform Mumbai’s landscape, especially in transport developments. These include a new International airport in Navi (new) Mumbai, some 30kms from South Mumbai, a new coastal road, a metro network including a 34 kms underground line from Colaba (downtown) to the existing Sahar airport, a Trans Harbour Sea Link, and much more. The British company Arup, which has had an office in Mumbai for several years and is working in India hard, is one of the companies advising on the harbour Sea Link.
Most of these developments are now firmly in the eyes of the State Government, and our office is talking to some of the State’s most important agencies, like the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA), the City and Urban Development Corporation (CIDCO), as well as the Municipal Commissioner’s office, about possible UK involvement. Public Private Partnerships and funding from the Central Government as well as the State will all be used to help develop these initiatives, presenting more opportunities for UK involvement.
In addition the State Government has a range of plans to press forward with new public housing schemes to remove some of the many slums around Mumbai, which are an eyesore and much worse for those who have to live in them. The harshness of some of the conditions was highlighted in a recent book, “Behind the Beautiful For Evers”, by New Yorker correspondent Katherine Boo, who spent three years living in one of the poorest areas near the airport. Boo paints a graphic account, in some places reading more like a novelist than a non-fiction writer, of the travails of everyday life. As she describes, and the Duke of York saw in a recent visit to Mumbai, many of the slums’ residents are extraordinarily adept at using their ingenuity, skill and sheer hard work to make a living even in the most unpromising conditions.
Education is one of the keys to enhancing developments in Mumbai and across Maharashtra, and the Chief Minister expressed his pleasure at the signing in June of an MOU with The British Council to work together to teach teachers in English Language training. With its 110M population, the majority of whom are under 30, the education requirements for the State are huge, but the British Council’s support, and the growing links between UK universities and state colleges, will hopefully make some difference as the Chief Minister and his Congress/NCP coalition grapple with their priorities of improving the State’s education, agriculture, infrastructure and housing.
Next stop Goa: where, with a population of less than 2M, the new Chief Minister faces a different set of challenges, and where our interests too in some respects overlap with those in Maharashtra, but others are different.