Flyovers v. Important Citizen

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Much ink has been spilled ( or bytes consumed) discussing Lata Mangeshkar’s alleged threat to quit Mumbai if the flyover on Peddar Road is built. A little bit of background if you have missed out on the story. Mumbai has been on a flyover building spree for the past 4-5 years and every time someone complains of traffic problems in Mumbai, a flyover contract is handed out. Peddar Road is one of the most congested roads in South Mumbai especially so during the rush hour which lately is anytime between 8am to 8pm. Lata Mangeshkar, the ‘voice of India’ is using her clout and indulging in emotional blackmail by stating that she will leave Mumbai if the flyover on Peddar Road is built. Her reasons – considering that it is a seismic zone, it would directly impact the foundations of the buildings in the area; not to mention bring the traffic right up to her eye level. Now the reactions to her statements have ranged from dismissive (her wish) to downright despicable (calling her all sorts of names in the abuse book).

Personally, I see it as a citizen advocacy movement. She issues such a statement simply because she knows it will catch attention. She is indulging in a classic NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) routine and trust me, if you were in her place, you would be doing just as much or even more. You cannot justify shutting up Lata by saying that no one would listen to low-income people if they chose to protest taking of their legal property. It is a systemic problem and needs legal consultation on specifics regarding land ownership, compelling government interest, and fair distribution of costs. Honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with her statement. She would move out if she so wishes (probably it would be better for her health too) and does not even demand compensation. Housing supply is so crunched up in Mumbai that her flat would still command a hefty price tag although it should incorporate the existence of a flyover that would supposedly drive the price down. This fact alone would also deny her any compensation if she chooses to demand one.

She has chosen to make a personal statement that a public amenity (flyover) would impact her and the residents in the neighborhood the greatest; so much that it would make her reconsider living there – a place that is her home for the last 45 years. If she is stating a scientific finding (seismic zone and weakened foundations), then she should be answered relative to those concerns because they certainly raise not only a public safety issue but also a ‘taking’ of her property considering it would lose economic value. The second argument (taking of property; acquisition in Indian legalese) would probably not hold since it doesn’t result in complete loss of economic value or productive use of her property owing to the flyover. But if it requires her to move, then I guess the cost of the flyover on Lata is much more than the cost on the people that would use it. And I am not talking of the fiscal costs here.

Facts and legal arguments wouldn’t work here and instead she has chosen to make an emotional appeal; probably it has failed. Sonia Gandhi recently showed how to successfully use an emotional angle to recover from a hopeless situation. I bet she would be singing a slogan that we used on our college rivals in a sing-song manner when we have fooled them – ch#$@ banaya, bada mazaa aaya. But in this case, Mumbai seems to care less if she lives in Mumbai or not. Maybe she has exhausted her utility now.

I wonder how would people react if Sachin Tendulkar (not now but at the height of his cricketing prowess) would threaten to immigrate to Australia (just to rub it in) if a flyover was built near his home. I bet the flyover proponents would find another place for directing traffic. People, it is an emotional appeal; listen to it if you choose to or ignore it. Don’t berate the old lady for resorting to measures that we understand best.

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