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How Mumbai’s long-awaited dream of IFSC status is nowhere near complete and Gandhinagar secured IFSC status

Who first recognized GIFT as IFSC? Narendra Modi? No. It was the UPA government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh which recognised GIFT as IFSC. When did this happen? In 2011.

The then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had made an announcement during his campaign for the 2004 Maharashtra Assembly elections. The announcement was to turn Mumbai into Shanghai. For the first few years, the then UPA government was serious about this announcement. We know that turning Mumbai into Shanghai can’t be done by announcement alone. It takes a lot of work.

One such task was to create an International Financial Services Center (IFSC), which we call the International Financial Services Center. For this, the then UPA Government set up a High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) under the chairmanship of industrialist Percy Mistry. In this committee, there were many veterans like  K. V. Kamath, Chandrasekhar Bhave, O. P. Bhatt, Aditya Puri and P. J. Nayak. The committee submitted its report to the government on February 10, 2007.

This entire 280 page report is available here. A 33 page executive summary of the same report is available here. According to the report, many things needed to be done to turn Mumbai into an IFSC. It consisted mainly of financial reforms to be done by the Central Government (which would apply to the whole of India, not just Mumbai) and few things (mainly upgradation of infrastructure) to be done by the State Government, in collaboration with the Central Government. It consisted mainly of 4 works. I quote them below from the reports.” 

First, elementary, glaring deficiencies in Mumbai’s urban infrastructure will need to be addressed and rectified on a war footing. These deficiencies have, over the last decade or more, been discussed in central, state and municipal government circles, the media, the corporate world, and by the public at large. Progress in addressing these deficits is now being made. The HPEC was assured by the CM of Maharashtra that the pace of progress was about to accelerate.

Mumbai’s deficiencies include: crumbling housing in dilapidated buildings pervading the city; poor road/rail mass transit as well as the absence of water-borne transport in what is essentially an island-city; absent arterial high-speed roads/urban expressways; poor quality of airports, airlines and air-linked connections domestically and internationally; poor provision of power, water, sewerage, waste disposal, as well as a paucity of high-quality residential, commercial, shopping and recreational space that meets global standards of construction, finish and maintenance.

Second, Mumbai will need to be seen as a cosmopolitan metropolis that welcomes and embraces migrants from everywhere – from India and abroad. That will mean providing more user-friendly visa/resident permit mechanisms, making all arms of government expatriate-friendly, and exhibiting a gentle, tolerant, open and welcoming culture.

Third, lifestyle facilities that concern human welfare will need to be brought up to world standards and run on world-class lines in terms of their management and growth. These include: hospitals and the health system (public and private); educational facilities such as primary/secondary schools, colleges, and universities; recreational facilities such as sports stadiums (for a wide variety of sports and not just cricket), gymnasiums, cinemas, theatres, parks, clubs, hotels, bars, restaurants, racecourses, casinos and other entertainment avenues; as well as cultural institutions such as libraries, art galleries, museums and the like, catering to global tastes.

Fourth, the quality of municipal and state governance, the provision of personal security and of law enforcement, will need to improve dramatically from third-world to first-world standards to accommodate an IFC. That is likely to prove the greatest challenge of all.

These tasks were to be completed by year 2020, which is the current year, in two phases. Could Mumbai manage to do anything of this? Answer is no. 

Now let’s go to the news that started this controversy. You can read the said news report of Mumbai Mirror here. This report clearly states that nothing has happened in Mumbai as expected in the HPEC report except the Versova-Ghatkopar Metro. 

Now lets dissect the issues point wise. First point; did Mumbai’s infrastructure increase? answer is no. The previous government led by Devendra Fadnavis started all the pending metro projects in Mumbai at the same time, in which the present ruling parties tried to score political points over petty issues like the Aarey Colony. As a culmination of the work that has been started in the last five years, we will see the launch of the second metro line in Mumbai by the end of this year or early next year, of course, if Corona situation doesn’t go out of hand, though situation is very bleak in Mumbai, with the city having most number of cases in the country.

Did inland water transport start? No. Did road and rail traffic improve? No. One of the terminals of the airport definitely was upgraded to the international standard, but the Navi Mumbai Airport has been lying dormant for the last 10 years. Even today, all the sewage of Mumbai is discharged into the sea without any treatment. Similarly waste management is in shambles. What about the world-class residential, commercial, shopping and entertainment facilities? Only a few which can be counted on the fingers of the hands. 

Second point – there is no need to say anything differently about the feelings for migrants, especially with the current ruling party.

Point number three – How many new health facilities have been set up till date? Today, the whole of Mumbai is struggling with Covid 19 and Mumbai is dependent on the British era Kasturba, JJ and KEM hospitals. How many new schools have been built and how many have been improved? Did Mumbai build a new university? How many sports stadiums have been built besides cricket? How many new galleries, museums, libraries have been built? None. Even today, casinos are not allowed.

Fourth point – How precarious our security is, was proven by the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai which were carried out in less than two years after HPEC report. There was also a Ram Pradhan Committee set up on the security lapses which resulted in this attack. This report is yet to implemented and lying in some cabinet of some Mantralaya in Mumbai.   

Then why did Gandhinagar get IFSC status? When this report was presented, the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi decided to take advantage of it. Because all the financial reforms recommended in the report were for the whole of India and not just for Mumbai. He started building a GIFT city near Gandhinagar as per the infrastructure needs mentioned in the report. Being a new city, Gujarat had no problem building infrastructure.

Watch this video to see what this GIFT City will look like when it’s ready. Have a look at the video linked below of GIFT city, on how it will look when completed. 

According to the Indian Express, GIFT City is about 20% complete, employing 9,000 people in 200 companies. No city is built overnight and so it takes time. Here too, there are some teething problems but the work is moving in the right direction. But the pace of this project is definitely faster than Mumbai.

Who first recognized GIFT as IFSC? Narendra Modi? No. It was the UPA government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh which recognised GIFT as IFSC. When did this happen? In 2011. So what is Congress doing in Maharashtra? Lying to the public.

The then UPA government made it clear in 2013 that the Mistry Committee’s report was not limited to Mumbai, and that the central government’s job was to reform the economy as envisaged by the committee, and if Bangalore or Ahmedabad could become world-class financial services centers, the central government would not stop them. What the Congress Government said in 2013, was known to Narendra Modi in 2007 after the report of the Mistry Committee came out, and he started building this city accordingly. Just as he brought Tata Motors Singur project from Bengal to Gujarat in 15 days, just in the same way Narendra Modi had a vision for IFSC. Narendra Modi was vying for IFSC when the Maharashtra leadership was busy in boasting.

Therefore, if IFSC has gone to Gandhinagar today, it should not be forgotten that it was due to the hard work of the then Chief Minister of Gujarat and therefore, without making it an issue of Maharashtra-Gujarat, the Maharashtra Congress – NCP leaders who are criticising Narendra Modi today, need to reflect on their own actions when they were in power last.

(This article has been written by Keshav, a media graduate, who left journalism for an alternative career. Traveller, Aviation Enthusiast. Indian, Marwari, Marathi in that order)

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