During this COVID-19 pandemic, situation in Mumbai has resulted in several jokes on social media. One of my favourite one says “If Mumbai decides to implement social distancing seriously then 1/3rd of population would be in Pune, 1/3rd in Gujarat and remaining 1/3rd can settle in Mumbai”. Honestly speaking Mumbai has been at a breaking point for years. To be very honest Mumbai is not the only city that facing these problems in India. More or less other big cities like Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata are facing similar issues. This pandemic has offered us an opportunity to reflect on our current model of urbanisation. Our big cities have got bigger. Somehow Tier 3 and 4 cities have not developed and expanded as much as they should have.
One way to accelerate development of Tier 3 / Tier 4 cities is a borrow an idea that American states have followed. In most states there has been an effort to ensure biggest city in state doesn’t become state capital. In case of state of California, state capital is 6th largest city in state (Sacramento). Similarly in case of Illinois, state capital is in Springfield rather than biggest city of Chicago. State of New York also has similar model where Albany is state capital rather than New York City. What this model has done is bigger cities have continued their growth due to industry and other demands. With state capital located in different town, the capital city has grown due to administrative and legislative requirements. This has ensured segregated and distributed growth in multiple places.
In India, we’re seeing exactly opposite of this. In Maharashtra the largest city in state Mumbai is the state capital. Similarly in case of Tamil Nadu, largest city in state Chennai is state capital. Same is the story with Karnataka with Bangalore being capital. One way to accelerate push to tier 3 / tier 4 cities is for governments to start utilising these cities more. It would not be a bad idea for Maharashtra to shift its capital away from Mumbai. Mumbai would stay as part of state of Maharashtra (I am not going to advocate making it an Union Territory and carve it out for Maharashtra as it would make this project a non-starter). What state of Maharashtra can do is convert Mumbai into some sort of autonomous zone with more control and power to cities municipal corporation. With this shift capital away from Mumbai.
With capital shifted away from Mumbai, Maharashtra government would have millions of square feet worth of space available in prime locations in Mumbai. This space can be either sold or leased. This should generate money to fund this capital shift. Construction of new capital would be a great boost to economy (which has taken a major hit due to pandemic and shutdown) as well. This is certainly a bold proposal. But drastic circumstances require drastic actions. So would somebody please at least entertain this idea before its too late?