Banker-turned-politician Meera Sanyal on what she would do with a billion dollars
Each week, we ask people working in the field of public policy what they would do if they were given a billion dollars to spend on projects. What policy initiatives would they fund, and how would they spend this money?
This week, we spoke to Meera Sanyal, member of the Aam Aadmi Party and former chief executive officer of Royal Bank of Scotland in India.
If you have your own billion dollar plan, send it to email@example.com. Selected entries will be published online.
A billion dollars. Is that enough money to do something substantial in public policy in India? Why or why not?
A billion dollars is approximately Rs6,900 crore. These days, it does not seem like a large sum of money, given the magnitude of scams and loan defaults that are making headlines! However, it is a very substantial sum. Spent wisely, a billion dollars can be a major catalyst and bring significant and long-term change.
What are some areas of public policy that you really care about? Feel free to go as micro as you want.
Areas of public policy that I care deeply about are:
Environment and ecology: People often claim that the price we have to pay for economic growth is a damaged environment. I believe this a false argument of lazy minds. Our generation is a custodian for future generations and we are doing a very poor job of guardianship. I have been privileged to do some great work in threatened ecosystems. Many of these learnings have been put to use in policy formulations such as the recent solar policy of the Delhi government.
Clean politics and good governance: As Indians, we are great critics and analysts! It’s time to stop criticizing and to start participating actively and constructively in the democratic process. This is why I stood for elections in 2009 and 2014 and why I continue to be active in public life.
Urban planning: As India urbanizes, it is important that our cities are developed as inclusive, equitable and livable spaces. This is a battle we seem to be losing. Both in my 2014 campaign and presently as chairperson the Indian Merchants Chamber’s Urban Development Committee, I have focused my efforts on the redevelopment of Mumbai’s port lands, which I believe can transform our city.
Women’s empowerment: Women hold up half the world and help create the other half! Having worked extensively with women entrepreneurs and self-help groups, I have seen the dramatic change women create when they are financially, politically and socially empowered. This is something I am very passionate about and take every opportunity to engage with talented and innovative women across our country and globally.
Education, skills and entrepreneurship for young people: This can and should be the golden age for India. The question is, will we be able to enjoy the benefit of our demographic dividend or will this spiral into a demographic nightmare of unemployed and disillusioned young people? This is a major challenge and one that we as a nation have to tackle urgently.
These issues are closely interconnected. Young people today are deeply concerned about environmental issues both in remote areas and in the cities. Skills and enterprise are closely linked with equity and empowerment. And, increasingly, citizens across the country are realizing that we must raise our voice and participate actively in the democratic process if we are to ensure we have the future that we want for our children and ourselves.
So, what is your billion dollar public policy idea? Why is it important?
My billion dollar public policy idea is to invest in the creation of an aesthetic, highly functional, and green public realm in Mumbai’s port lands.
The redevelopment of these 1,000 acres can rejuvenate and revitalize our city, if redeveloped in a SMART way.
Mumbai has become unlivable for the common citizen. The quality of life in our city is very poor—we do not have enough schools, colleges or vocational centres to educate our children; there are no playgrounds for them; medical facilities are overcrowded; travelling to work is a hard and long journey; open spaces are inadequate and inaccessible… the list is endless.
Our city has no shortage of innovative, enterprising and talented people—but because it’s become so hard to live, study, work and breathe in Mumbai, our most talented people are seeking their future elsewhere.
Mumbai can and should be a major global hub for start-ups and entrepreneurs; for bankers and venture capitalists; for insurance and project finance; for commodity and stock exchanges; for fund management, derivatives, futures and options… Having a thriving and vibrant commercial capital is an essential prerequisite for a prosperous India. But for this to happen, we must be able to attract and retain talented people.
Global experience shows that if a city is a “nice" place to live in—talented people will flock there. Investment follows talent. With more investment, there are more jobs and more prosperity for all.
Such cities create a virtuous upward spiral: affordable, aesthetic, livable environs attract talent, which attract investments, which creates jobs and growth, which produces tax revenues, which can be invested in better social and public amenities, which create a nicer environment, which attracts more talent and so on.
The port lands provide a space that can be redeveloped to create world-class public infrastructure and the much-needed social amenities and recreation spaces that Mumbai is starved of. Schools, colleges, vocational institutes, sports facilities, hospitals, libraries, parks, promenades, bicycle tracks, vocational hubs, museums and trade and convention centres, to name just a few.
The port lands lie at the heart of Mumbai, just 5km from the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station. The area is well connected by the Harbour line—no part of the port lands is more than a 10-minute walk from an existing Harbour line station. Being located on our beautiful eastern waterfront, the port lands lend themselves perfectly to water transportation by ferries, which will provide swift and clean multi-modal access to citizens in all parts of the city.
Erstwhile dock and port areas in New York, London and Barcelona have been redeveloped, and in the process, they have transformed these cities.
It is time Mumbai did the same and took its rightful place as the financial capital of Asia.
Broadly, what can a billion dollars do for this particular area?
A billion dollars invested in specific social amenities and public spaces in the port lands can transform this area and becomes a catalyst for revitalizing our city.
Mumbai is incredibly lucky to have this space. The area is adjacent to some of the most densely populated areas in our city—yet, so far, it has been a dark zone hidden behind the walls of the port.
The area is owned by the port trust—a single owner under the control of the central government, which in principle makes it simple to develop. It is held in trust for the city of Mumbai. In 1980, as Nhava Sheva Port across the harbour was being developed to decongest Bombay, then prime minister Indira Gandhi issued a directive that all non-operational lands of Bombay Port would be made available to the citizens of the city for recreational and open spaces. The environment ministry ratified this in 1988. This is a project that should be supported by both the central and state governments and every political party in the interests of Mumbai and its citizens.
Till recently, most people in Mumbai were unaware this space existed—fewer still were aware that for the past 10 years, millions of tonnes of coal have been dumped here (against which we have just won a landmark victory in the high court) or that it is a home to a toxic ship-breaking yard, where iconic ships like the Vikrant have been scrapped.
Through my 2014 Lok Sabha campaign I was able to focus attention on this space, thanks to which there is now political consensus that the port lands must be redeveloped.
To bring social focus on this area, I created the hashtag #PortLands, which gained traction on social media—now the name is used even by the BJP’s minister of shipping, Nitin Gadkari, and the Shiv Sena MP for South Mumbai, Arvind Sawant!
Our challenge is to ensure that the builder-politician lobby is not able to usurp this land as they did the mill lands in Lower Parel.
To make sure this does not happen, we must develop the public realm in the port lands and open it up to the citizens of Mumbai BEFORE commercial interests take over. The port lands, which stretch from Colaba in the south to Wadala in the north, must be integrated with adjacent city areas such as Sewri, Lalbaug, Byculla, Matunga, Dongri and Bhendi Bazaar, so that all citizens of the city have access to this space.
If there is a promenade on the eastern waterfront, then the space cannot be encroached upon by millionaires’ skyscrapers. If a new Port Lands University is built in Hay Bunder, then the space cannot be usurped by shopping malls.
Rs6,900 crore or a billion dollars can create an aesthetic, functional and citizen-centric public realm in the port lands that can act as the nucleus of a SMART, equitable and livable Mumbai.
Now, give us a sense of how you will spend this money. Be specific if possible.
Our citizens’ group—APLI Mumbai—presented a comprehensive proposal for the redevelopment of the port lands to the Rani Jadhav Committee in August 2014.
After multiple brainstorming sessions with stakeholders, in collaboration with Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture and Planning and the Urban Development Committee of the Indian Merchants Chamber, these ideas were presented at a conference in November 2014.
Public sea-facing promenades, east-west connectivity through roads, walkways, cycle tracks and parks, and north-south and trans-harbour connectivity through passenger water terminals are the salient elements of our recommendations to the government. Twelve distinct geographical neighbourhoods—based on the social, cultural and historical characteristics of each area—have been proposed.
The breakdown of how I would spend the billion dollars for the port lands is given below:
A. Port lands promenade: Rs1,000 crore
For creating a sea-facing public promenade along the length of the eastern waterfront. Waterfront parks along the promenade will create both a green lung for the city and a buffer against climate change events. The promenade will have pedestrian and bicycling paths and should be designed to be easily navigable by senior citizens, children and the differently abled.
B. Passenger water terminals: Rs900 crore
To create a network of Passenger Ferry Terminals at Sewri, Haji Bunder, Lakdi Bunder, Ferry Wharf, OCT/Cruise Terminal, Ballard Pier, Gateway of India and Sassoon Docks, which will provide all weather, eco-friendly and comfortable north-west and trans-harbour connectivity.
C. Neighbourhood areas: Rs5,000 crore
1. Sewri nature park and cultural hub (Rs300 crore)
Sewri is a world-renowned nesting site for flamingos and home to many heritage monuments, such as the Sewri Fort and Dargah. This area of the port lands should be developed as a tourism and eco-zone with dedicated areas for a flamingo sanctuary, mangrove parks, heritage tourism, artists and cultural activities. The allocation of Rs300 crore should be used for eco-friendly infrastructure that allows citizens access, while ensuring protection of the ecology and heritage architecture of the area.
2. Nadkarni Park, Wadala—affordable housing (Rs500 crore)
This area that should be earmarked for affordable housing for people affected or displaced by government projects, with vibrant mixed-used housing communities. The allocation of Rs500 crore is the seed capital to create high-quality public and community spaces. Housing should be built, purchased and rented on commercial, albeit affordable, terms, through the existing schemes of the government.
3. Cotton Green—BRICS HQ and trade hub (Rs500 crore)
This area was the erstwhile hub for India’s cotton trade. The beautiful Cotton Green Exchange building is the perfect space for a global BRICS headquarters with a thriving innovation and trade hub to be built surrounding it, with space for convention centres and the necessary accompanying infrastructure.
4. Hay Bunder—Port Lands University (Rs1,500 crore)
This area of over 4 sq. km houses derelict factories, warehouses and plots, most of whose leases have expired. We suggest that this is developed as a new Port Lands University focusing on new-age disciplines and next-generation professions. The entire area should be connected with high-speed broadband connectivity, with a digital public library and Wi-Fi enabled student study and research areas.
The allocation of Rs1,500 crore is the corpus to create this infrastructure. For funding of individual colleges, a public private partnership should be encouraged, where organizations or foundations can create world-class educational infrastructure on a BOT (build, operate, transfer) basis as part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities.
5. Haji Bunder—Sports City (Rs1,000 crore)
Adjacent to Hay Bunder, and interspersed with the educational institutions in the Port Lands University, should be a sports district with state-of-the-art facilities for sports in which young Indians are excelling—such as shooting and archery, kabaddi, weightlifting, wrestling and boxing, basketball, athletics, tennis, badminton and squash, swimming, football, etc.
6. Lakdi Bunder—vocational training hub (Rs150 crore)
The wharves in this area—Reti Bunder, Tank Bunder, Coal Bunder and Lakdi Bunder—are now defunct. At a 10 minute walking distance from Reay Road station, this is an ideal neighbourhood to create high-quality vocational training centres for which an allocation of Rs150 crore is proposed.
7. Darukhana—water sports and maritime museum (Rs100 crore)
Presently the site of a toxic ship-breaking yard, Darukhana has a natural slope and compact seabed that lends itself perfectly to water sports, such as sailing, rowing, wind surfing, etc. This is also the perfect location for a maritime museum. Such a museum could potentially do a “Bilbao" for Mumbai and become a big attraction for the new zone!
8. Bhaucha Dhakka—fisherman’s wharf (Rs100 crore)
The Ferry Wharf at Bhaucha Dhakka was once a nodal point for passenger ferries. It is still a bustling fishing wharf for Koli fisherman—but the facilities are extremely basic and unhygienic. The allocation of Rs100 crore should be used to strengthen the crumbling marine structure, upgrade the fishing wharf and create a modern passenger ferry terminal with linkages to the Eastern Express Freeway, the Metro and the Harbour line.
9. Princes Dock—coastal vessel berthing and ship repairs (Rs100 crore)
This heritage dock built in 1888, has been filled with rubble to create an unused stockyard for the stillborn OCT (Offshore Container Terminal) project. This is valuable infrastructure which is ideally suited to be a modern berthing and ship repair facility—providing essential services to offshore supply vessels, coast guard, etc., while providing numerous skilled jobs and apprentice opportunities. The allocation of Rs100 crore should be spent on removing the rubble and restoring the dock to the purpose for which it is ideally suited.
10. Victoria Dock—Marina (Rs100 crore)
Like the Princes and Merewether Dry Docks, the Victoria Dock built in 1890 has also been filled with rubble for the OCT! The allocation of Rs100 crore can convert this heritage dock from an unused stockyard to a modern Marina for thousands of boats. It will provide safe berthing facilities both in fair weather and in the monsoons for boats and recreational craft while providing jobs and a steady stream of revenue for the port authorities.
In an era of start-ups, Mumbai is starved of affordable working spaces for young entrepreneurs. Less than 10 minutes walking distance from both Sandhurst Road and Masjid Bunder stations, Elphinstone estate is the perfect space in the port lands to be developed as an innovation cluster, with Incubation facilities and co-working spaces. Using Shoreditch as a model, the warehouses in Elphinstone estate can swiftly be converted into a vibrant entrepreneurial district.
12. OCT Jetty—cruise ship terminal (Rs150 crore)
An Offshore Container Terminal was built in 2007 in Mumbai Port, as an ill-conceived project at a cost of Rs1,200 crore. Due to insufficient depth, the jetty cannot be used. However, with a relatively small investment, it can be converted into a cruise ship terminal, with the potential of generating several billions of dollars in tourist revenue, along with thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
Note: The Sassoon Docks, which was originally part of our recommendations, is not included in the billion dollar proposal. Subsequent to our recommendations, the government has sanctioned and approved a Rs50 crore project in for the modernization of the Sassoon Docks.
If the port lands are redeveloped using these ideas, Mumbai can be transformed with a billion dollars!
What outcomes do you hope to see?
I would like to see the redevelopment of the port lands take place swiftly and in an integrated manner with Mumbai’s development plan:
• As an inclusive, aesthetic, functional and green space that will be a global benchmark for urban regeneration and renewal.
• With public sea-facing promenades that will give us space to breathe, relax and dream
• Creating east-west connectivity by roads, walkways, cycle tracks and parks
• Integrated mobility through Transit Oriented Development and passenger water terminals
• With social hubs for healthcare, education, entertainment, sports and culture in line with UDPFI (urban development plans formulation and implementation) guidelines—an area where Mumbai is sorely lagging
With the port lands as its nucleus, I want Mumbai to become a sustainable, citizen-friendly, smart city.
What if I gave you another billion? Would you keep spending it here?
The first billion dollars would create the essential public realm and provide seed capital for the port lands neighbourhoods.
The next billion dollars should be spent on creating social hubs distributed at a 1km distance along the north-south axis of the port lands. This will provide the social infrastructure our city needs to meet the UDPFI guidelines, which we currently fall far short of.
These hubs could be a combination of or stand-alone amenities such as hospitals, dispensaries, polyclinics, community halls, pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, rainwater harvesting and solid waste sorting centres, to name just a few.
And, finally, what if you had to just spend it on yourself? (Be decent.)
As a citizen of Mumbai and someone who loves our city—I believe this is money that I am in fact spending on myself, and on Mumbai’s children, including my own!
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