Mumbai First – Polishing the Jewel of India’s Crown

 In Speaker / Gateway

Last Tuesday, the Rotary Club of Bombay was honoured to welcome to our meeting Rtn. Narinder Nayar, a well-known industrialist and a member of our Club for decades. What he is not as familiar for is his role as Chairman of Mumbai First, an initiative to make the city a better place to live, work, and invest in. Rtn. Nayar shared his experiences with Mumbai First, detailing the program’s journey from when it fi rst began to how it stands today.

“Mumbai has been known by several names,” Rtn. Nayar stated. “The jewel of the crown, the Manchester of the East, and recently, the City of Gold by Gillian Tindall.” He highlighted how Mumbai has come to symbolise India to the external world, a place where millions of individuals have come in search of fortunes, and where, in fact, many fortunes were made. Currently, the city generates about six to seven percent of India’s total GDP. However, Rtn. Nayar claimed that something went wrong somewhere, and Mumbai is no longer a city of the future – it is a city of the past. The situation on the ground is quite bleak: from water

and sewage to transportation, the Mumbai we all love lacks even the basic amenities. Therefore, Mumbai First serves as a wake-up call. Supported by business houses like Tata, Godrej, Mahindra, Asian Pants, Siemens, and many more, it is a think tank for the region. “It looks to transform Mumbai into a world-class city with a vibrant economy and a globally comparable quality of life for its citizens,” noted Rtn. Nayar.

Initially, though the group had good ideas, they were unsure of how to move forward with them, until Rtn. Nayar met with Sanjay Walia from the then-Chief Minister’s office. A meeting with the CM was then set up, and Rtn. Nayar, along with a few other members, waited for the CM in the Chambers Restaurant. Five minutes prior to their meeting time, they received a call claiming that something urgent had arisen; the CM would only be able to meet with the group for about ten minutes. “Long story short, the Chief Minister came at 8:30 PM and left at 12:30 AM,” Rtn. Nayar said. By the end of the meeting, they had come to a commitment: If Mumbai First could create a document with all their ideas, to see how Mumbai could realistically be developed, the CM would work with and support them. Six months later, a working group with the Mumbai Commissioner, Chief Secretary, and Metropolitan Commissioner was organised, and a thorough study was completed and submitted to the CM,who gave them the goahead.

Thus, Mumbai First assembled a few important institutions, including a Citizens’ Action Group, chaired by the CM and thirty citizens across Mumbai, and an Empowered Committee of the Government. This committee includes eight private members, which is the first time in history such a thing was ever approved by the CM. Mumbai First’s plans were also submitted to the Prime Minister and World Bank, both promising their support. The think tank hence became an exemplary standard for public-private partnership. It was recognised by the Indian Government’s Ministry of Urban Development as the best practice and was acknowledged by the World Bank as the most
successful policy model anywhere in the world.

Mumbai First has worked on numerous projects concerning the city’s housing, transportation, planning, and implementation problems. One of the largest issues, however, is the city’s

governance. Regarding Mumbai’s administration, Rtn. Nayar stated, “The city is governed by excellent commissioners who are individually very nice, but collectively, the system doesn’t work.” Though Rtn. Nayar has worked with plenty Chief Ministers, Chief Secretaries, Ministry Commissioners, and MMRDA Commissioners, who have all been very active and responsive, the mechanism of governance altogether is fractured. Therefore, Mumbai First’s role has been one of a conductor in an orchestra. The initiative assembles together public cooperators and international players to aid the city’s transformation, facilitating consultations with all the stakeholders and advocating for support from the IndianGovernment and international agencies. In addition to this, they organise seminars and workshops which enable effective governance. Currently, Mumbai First has missions underway in eight focus areas: security, physical infrastructure, economic growth, environment, transport and mobility, education, housing, and health. These missions are all headed by the concerned Principal Secretary from the Government of Maharashtra and co-chaired by a Mumbai First representative.

In addition to this, Mumbai First forges international partnerships to aid capacity building. “We have signed MOUs with the European Union in the areas of water management, solid waste management, and sustainability. We have received strong support from the World Bank in the form of financial aid for projects in Mumbai and we have partnerships with cities like Barcelona and London,” listed Rtn. Nayar. An example of one such international
partnership occurred right after the city’s 26/11 terrorist attacks. Mumbai First organised for a high-level delegation, comprising of the Deputy Mayor of London, the Commissioner of London Metropolitan, and the Police at
Scotland Yard, to visit Mumbai and share their experiences regarding terrorist attacks. This led to a very close partnership between London and Mumbai Police, resulting in a visit to Scotland Yard where Mumbai Police learnt more about security, a month-long hostage negotiation course at the London Police Academy for Mumbai’s women police officers, and a crisis management course hosted by four trainers from Scotland Yard in Mumbai – the first of its kind.

In this manner, Mumbai First has become a powerful force for positive change within the city. They have developed forwardlooking concept plans for MMRDA, actively contributing to the ongoing dialogue about metro rail services and securing funding for such projects from the Prime Minister. They have even organized large conferences and conclaves,
inviting key stakeholders in both Indian Governments and Indian and international agencies. At one such conference, the Chief Minister noted that Mumbai’s future development will stand on three pillars: The Government of Maharashtra, the Government of Mumbai, and Mumbai First.

In closing, Rtn. Nayar stated with spirit, “Mumbai has the potential to become a world-class city, but it can only do so if we stop relying on yesterday’s ideas for today’s problems.” Requesting our Rotarians to join Mumbai First,
he reaffirmed that the seeds of progress have now been sown and their fruits will be reaped in the near future. With enough perseverance and passion, Mumbai can once again become the illustrious jewel of India’s

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