Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mumbai. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mumbai. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday, December 01, 2008

What We Have Lost?

By M H Ahssan

Will Mumbai ever be the same again?

This election season was wearing its usual silly look. Some even found it funny. The sight of L K Advani toying with a bow and arrow, or of Chidambaram teaching tycoons the Karat chop, gave cartoonists and satirists enough fat to chew on. Then, in the dead of night, terrorists attacked Mumbai and instantly sucked the humour out of our politics.

The “real” outsiders were in Mumbai, but Bal Thackeray and his nephew cowered in their lairs. Ministers lived in tightly capped security flasks, yet the rest of India lay open to predators. Dead lives and dashed property were tragic enough, but now India’s iconic city centre had been ravaged. One does not have to live in the exclusive neighbourhood where terror struck, not even in the city, to feel outraged that our politicians let Mumbai down. That this sentiment is expressed by Ratan Tata and the man on the street is emblematic of the popular mood.

The terror is now over but will Colaba Causeway be the same again? Will Cafe Leopold still attract sailors from the docks, unhappy clerks and Konkani girls with flowers in their hair? Sadly, from now on a view of the metropolis from the embankment of Marine Drive or the Gateway of India will always bring back memories that smell of cordite and gunpowder. How long will it take for Mumbai to feel the sea breeze without a chill going up its spine?

For a Mumbai resident, whether in Borivili or Dombivili, what made the city special were Colaba, Nariman Point and the Gateway of India. Come to Dharavi, where stands but mostly crawls, Asia’s largest slums. Here too in the midst of squalor and uncertain livelihoods, Marine Drive is everyone’s wish place for an evening’s promenade. Also the sweep of the bay with its naughty lights has appeared in a hundred Bollywood films and reached out to millions across India. So one does not have to live in Mumbai to identify closely with the tragedy. Even distant Delhi fell silent when Mumbai was hit. It was almost as if Colaba was next door to Karol Bagh.

Mumbai has suffered many indignities in recent years. In the late 1960s, the Shiv Sena seriously challenged Mumbai’s many cultured texture and tone. Maharashtrian chauvinism came to rule, but slowly gave in to the city’s innate cosmopolitan pressure. Even today, despite the countrywide attack against them by Bajrang Dal and VHP, Christians live with dignity in Mumbai, just as they always did. Parsees too practise their distinctive tradition as calmly as if Zarathustra was born Indian. That the Parsee mother tongue is Gujarati effectively encourages this impression.

But things have gone very wrong for Mumbai, especially since 1993. Blasts have happened outside the stock exchange; passengers have been bombed in its suburban trains; floods choked people inside their cars; and, more recently, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena staged a parody of the Mumbaikar.

There is clearly no dearth of hypocrites and party-poopers in Mumbai, but the city has a flow and, like any great river, neuters its impurities. Women work till late at night and come home unescorted. The memory of the rogue policeman in Marine Drive is all but forgotten. In fact, memories of the 1993 blasts have also been dealt with. Mumbai has not had a Hindu-Muslim riot for the past 15 years, and we all know that there was provocation enough. In fact, most mosques in Mumbai have greater floor space today than what was permitted before 1993. Even Shiv Sainik councillors happily endorse such expansions. This great city has a way of washing away its sins.

Mumbai is cosmopolitan and modern in a way no other Indian city is. A liquor vend can be run respectably by a woman, skirts and saris mingle in the streets, the bazaar lingo is a mix of several languages, bus conductors exercise effective authority and then there are the dreammerchants of Bollywood. When beer was quaffed secretly in Delhi, one could have it in the open in Mumbai. It was not necessary to go to a luxury hotel or doctor a health certificate to buy beer. It was always easily available in Mumbai’s signature “Irani” restaurants. Schoolboys, sporting a shadow on their upper lip, grew up fast in these unpretentious watering holes. Cafe Leopold was one of them, perhaps the most celebrated in Colaba Causeway, and now that too has been struck by terrorists.

So who is to blame for what happened in Mumbai last week? Some allege that terrorists leave their prison cells laughing as our laws are lenient and our judges kind. Should we then summarily execute anyone who is picked up on suspicion? Or should we be more vigilant and contemplate solutions that are genuinely non-partisan?

Nobody can deny that without a massive intelligence failure a terrorist raid such as this could never have happened. It almost appears as if Mumbai is like one of those fictional African states that a few mercenaries can conspire to conquer. But no Indian city has ever been in a Frederick Forsythe plot, least of all Mumbai. If it now looks like a possible locale, one must find the reasons for it. Will Mumbai be the turning point? Will it teach our politicians the difference between pointing fingers and pointing guns?

If spectacular Mumbai could not be saved, what hope is there for the rest of India?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Reasons Behind Mumbai’s Ever Increasing, Unaffordable Home Prices


There are many ways to describe Mumbai. India’s financial capital. Maximum city. The city of dreams. The city of seven islands.

And as most who’ve lived there would surely know: India’s most expensive housing market.

Monday, December 01, 2008

OPINION: Why they hate Mumbai?

By Sarah Williams

My bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that appals religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness.

Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.

Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its name.

Mumbai is a “soft target”, the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai, it’s impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there’s an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run towards it — to help.

I grew up in a Bombay where your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshipped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbours, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against.

In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the openair Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls VT, the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India.

The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run towards the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?

I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dingy Slums To Swanky Hifi, Mumbai 'Windows' Tells A Lot

PHOTO FEATURE: A great story of Mumbai 'Window' lives from a dingy single room in crumbling slums to some of the most expensive residences in world, Mumbai’s real-estate market has it all.

And, income willing, the Indian financial capital’s 21 million inhabitants can take their pick, with monthly rents ranging between Rs300 ($5) and Rs1.2 lakh ($2,000).

Since last year, INNLIVE photographer Danish Siddiqui has been chronicling what Mumbai’s houses look from the outside—alongside estimating how much rent their residents typically pay.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mumbai Festivities Marks Indian Culture And Traditions

By Angie Picardo (Guest Writer)

Indian festivals are celebrated by varied cultures and through their special rituals add to the colours of Indian Heritage. Some festivals welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings, saints, and gurus (revered teachers), or the advent of the New Year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

India wants its 'Osama' back

By M H Ahssan

Dawood Ibrahim, one of Asia's most notorious mafia dons and India's version of Osama bin Laden, is emerging as a key suspect in the funding and logistical support for the November 26 terrorist strike on Mumbai.

Ibrahim, who tops the Mumbai police list of its 44 most wanted criminals, is among 20 fugitives India has asked Pakistan to extradite following the multiple attacks in Mumbai that killed nearly 200.

Pakistan, as it did with a similar list received after terrorists assaulted India's parliament in 2001, has refused to deport the fugitives, or even acknowledge their presence in the country.

The "most wanted" list reflects a deadly South Asian stew of terrorist organization chieftains, crime gang bosses, murderers, hijackers and violent leaders of separatist groups.

If Pakistan extradited Ibrahim, an Interpol-listed criminal, it may ease tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. If not to India, Pakistan could hand him over to Interpol, or the US, where enforcement authorities want him as one of the world's most dangerous drug lords. Such a move would mollify India's public anger against Pakistan's inactivity.

The catch is that India's most infamous mafia boss has stories that powerbrokers on both sides of the border might not want the world to hear. Therein lies a reason why Ibrahim apparently continues to live lavishly - alternating between Karachi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, according to various reports including from the Pakistan media.

Even as Pakistani authorities claim ignorance of Ibrahim's whereabouts, his family is well settled in Pakistan society. Dawood's eldest daughter Mahrukh married Junaid Miandad, eldest son of well-known former Pakistan cricket captain Javed Miandad in July 2005. Javed Miandad is now the newly appointed director-general of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

The boss of "D" Company, as India calls Dawood Ibrahim's global criminal organization, is the main suspect in the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai that killed over 300. He has been accused of executing the attack in collusion with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Ibrahim is also suspected of orchestrating the November 26 terrorist strikes in Mumbai through a businessman in Saudi Arabia said to be his frontman.

The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists set sail from Karachi to Mumbai in the ship MV Alpha, allegedly an Ibrahim-owned vessel. After being warned of Indian navy patrols along the Indian coast, the LET terrorists hijacked an Indian fishing trawler, Kuber, and murdered its crew except for the navigator, Amarsinh Solanki.

The terrorists slit Solanki's throat five nautical miles off the Indian coast - the Indian Navy found his body aboard the abandoned trawler with his hands tied behind his back. Later, they linked up with an Ibrahim gang member in Mumbai who provided them motorized inflatable rubber dinghies in which they landed ashore after 9pm on November 26. Within 30 minutes, they struck pre-determined targets in South Mumbai starting with the Leopold Cafe in Colaba.

The Mumbai police's Crime Branch has yet to make any official statement on "D" Company's alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks. Still, there is unofficial tacit admission from present and retired police officials that the attacks could not have been carried out without Ibrahim's involvement.

"The Dawood Ibrahim involvement comes under criminal intelligence and none speaks whoever has it," Kiran Bedi, a former inspector General of Police and special commissioner of Police Intelligence, told Asia Times Online. Bedi, one of Asia's most distinguished female police officers and 1994 Magsaysay Award winner, was a prominent voice within the Indian police until she retired in 2007. "The only other option is the media's investigators who may have covered him in the past and are still on the person concerned," she said.

Some senior Indian Coast Guard officials have privately admitted to Mumbai journalists of Ibrahim's hand in the terrorist attacks, saying nobody knows the sea around Mumbai better than the man who controls smuggling off Mumbai's coast. The LET terrorists used resources provided by one of Ibrahim's pointmen in Mumbai, who is said to be a major smuggler of diesel, drugs and petroleum products along India's western coast.

Ibrahim's involvement featured in a media briefing at the White House on December 1, even as US President George W Bush was in the Situations Room receiving an update on the Mumbai attacks. Press Secretary Dana Perino neither denied nor confirmed Ibrahim's role in the attacks, though she pointedly picked at the reference to him in a long-winded question from one of the reporters present.

Fifty-two-year old Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar has 26 aliases - from Abdhul Hamid Aziz to Sheik Ibrahim - and is known to have used at least 11 passports. He started as small-time smuggler of gold and silver nearly 30 years ago in Mumbai. Standing 5-feet, 4-inches, the diminutive son of a police constable gradually built a worldwide criminal network said to number around 1,500. His path to power has been littered with accusations of extortion, murder contracts, counterfeit currency printing, smuggling, gambling, narcotics and international cricket match-fixing.

Mumbai police officials in the Crime Branch have long been aware of Ibrahim's heavy investment in real estate and the production of Bollywood movies. Police said "D" Company men in Mumbai recently sent Ibrahim US$24 million from real estate transactions.

The US government set its sights on Ibrahim on October 16, 2003, with the US Treasury Department marking him as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist". "For the Ibrahim syndicate, the business of terrorism forms part of their larger criminal enterprise, which must be dismantled," said Juan Zarate, the US deputy assistant secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, while releasing Executive Order 13224.

On June 1, 2006, the US Statement on "Presidential Designation of Foreign Narcotics Kingpins", named Ibrahim among "significant foreign narcotics traffickers, their organizations and operatives worldwide" who were to be "denied access to the US financial system and all trade and transactions involving US companies and individuals".

Ibrahim's involvement in the Mumbai terrorist attacks may have already been known to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as early as September. According to information now circulating among the global intelligence community, US signals intelligence (SIGINT) spotted a sharp increase in "chatter" from Pakistan that indicated an operation was cooking. Field agents confirmed suspicions.

In mid-September, the CIA station chief in New Delhi met his Indian counterpart of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's overseas spy agency. The CIA station chief is said to have specifically revealed that the Lashkar-e-Taiba was planning a major attack that would come from the sea.

As late as November 18, RAW intercepted a satellite phone call made to a number in Lahore, Pakistan, often used by Yusuf Muzammil, the military commander of LET. The caller informed his Pakistan-based handlers that he was heading for Mumbai with unspecified "cargo", in the ship belonging to Ibrahim.

When Interpol on July 21, 2006, arrested a leading Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, Syed Abdul Karim, in Mombassa, on the East African coast, Indian and US intelligence agents pointed to Ibrahim's growing connections with Pakistan-based terror groups such as the LET and Harkat ul-Jihad Islami, as well as al-Qaeda. Ibrahim is suspected of renting out his vast smuggling network, and resources such as ships, material and corrupt officials, to terrorist groups worldwide.

Following his trail, Mumbai police on December 2 interrogated "D" Company gangsters in Arthur Road Jail. Those questioned included Ibrahim henchman Abu Salem, Mustafa Dossa and Salim Fruit. The outcome of the interrogations is not yet publicly known, but one account claims that incarcerated "D" Company gangsters are now "terrified".

Where is Dawood Ibrahim? According to Mumbai police, his last known city address is "33/36, Pakmodiya street, Haji Ismail, Musafirkhana, Dongri, Mumbai".

An Interpol-United Nations Security Council Special Notice QI K 135 03, maintained by the UN Security Council al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee (1267 Committee), gives Dawood Ibrahim's address as "White House, near Saudi Mosque, Clifton, Karachi."

Karachi-based newspaper Newsline reported in a September 2001 cover story titled "Karachi's Gang Wars" that two rival underworld gangs in the city were both working for Ibrahim.

"After the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, Dawood Ibrahim and his team have made Karachi their new home and base of operations," the Karachi Newsline report said. "Living under fake names and IDs, and provided protection by government agencies, they have built up their underworld empire in Karachi employing local talent like Shoaib and Bholoo."

But Pakistan leaders, including current President Asif Zardari, have for years dismissed Ibrahim's presence in Pakistan. Zardari even termed Dawood "a phantom created by India".

Even so, a US Office of Foreign Assets Control statement from June 1, 2006 listed at least four addresses for Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi, Pakistan:

- 617 CP Berar Society, Block 7-8, Karachi
- House No. 37, Street 30, Phase V, Defense Housing Authority, Karachi
- House No. 10, Hill Top Arcade, Defense Housing Authority, Karachi
- Moin Palace, 2nd Floor, Opp Abdullah Shah Gazi Dargah, Clifton, Karachi

The Foreign Assets Control list also included Ibrahim's Dubai address: White House, Al-Wassal Road, Jumeira, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

"Dawood's underworld connects and business ventures are extensive," according to Lahore-based Pakistan journalist Amir Mir. "And he sublets his name in Pakistan, Thailand, South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, to franchises in the fields of drug trafficking and gambling dens."

Another Pakistan journalist Ghulam Hasnain described Ibrahim's life as a "king" in Karachi: "His home is a palatial house spread over 6,000 square yards, boasting a pool, tennis courts, snooker room and a private, hi-tech gym. He wears designer clothes, drives top-of-the-line Mercedes and luxurious four-wheel drives, sports a half-a-million rupee Patek Phillipe wristwatch, and showers money on starlets and prostitutes."

The Karachi-based Hasnain explains why Ibrahim is valuable to the ISI and the army: "Dawood is Pakistan's number one espionage operative. His men in Mumbai help him get whatever information he needs for Pakistan. Rumor has it that sometimes his men in Karachi accompany Pakistani intelligence agents to the airports to scan arriving passengers and identify RAW agents."

Hasnain even claims Dawood once rescued Pakistan's Central Bank during a crisis by providing a huge loan. For now, as international patience wears thin, Pakistan could rescue itself from a worsening crisis by handing over Dawood Ibrahim to Interpol or US law enforcement agencies, if not directly to India.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Taj Mahal leads India's recovery

By M H Ahssan

Brutally damaged but determined, shell-shocked but standing firm, the Taj Mahal Palace hotel has become a rallying symbol for Mumbai's recovery from the multiple terrorist strikes last week which killed 183 people and injured over 325.

The Taj, Mumbai, a hospitality industry icon in India, was seized by gunmen on the night of November 26, along with its competitor, the Oberoi-Trident and a Jewish community center, all within a three-kilometer radius in south Mumbai, the city's leading office, residential and tourist area.

After suffering India's worst terrorist attack, Mumbai quickly lived up to its reputation of resilience. On Monday, the bustling Colaba area near the Taj Mahal burst into noisy life in mid-morning sunshine, with tourist shops and restaurants open and business as usual. Chatting and smiling Western tourists casually strolled around Colaba, with no fear in anyone's eyes.

Apart from a security cordon around the Taj Mahal, the bylanes of Colaba offered no traces of the area being the epicenter of bloodied mayhem 48 hours ago as army and navy commandos fought to flush out well-armed, well-trained terrorists holding hundreds of hostages from over 10 countries.

Then, in what now seems a barely believable nightmare, nearly 60 hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions stopped in south Mumbai around 7.30 am on Saturday, as the body of the last of the terrorists tumbled out of a first floor window in the Taj Mahal that alleged Lakshar-e-Taiba (LET) operatives seized. A quasi-commando sea raid from another country to massacre unarmed civilians in the city had ended, and despite a last salvo of loud explosions, the hotel was still standing. The LET is a banned militant group based in Pakistan that has traditionally focussed on Kashmir, the disputed territory between India and Pakistan.

If the Taj Mahal in Agra is a monument to love, the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai became a symbol of defiance during the unprecedented ordeal.

The symbol of grief in the city is two-year old Moshe, the surviving orphan of New York origin Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, whom the terrorists killed on the first night of the attack.

Baby Moshe, clutching a red ball and crying out for his parents, left for Israel on Monday with his grand parents and his Indian nanny Sandra Samuel, who saved him by escaping from the Jewish community building in Colaba that the terrorists had seized.

On a Saturday night of candlelight processions, including near the Taj, in which many expatriates from the US and European countries participated, one of them said, "The terrorists want me to be afraid, and I am not afraid. I am not leaving Mumbai."

For three nights and two days I watched in dismay as the Taj Mahal, one of the most familiar landmarks of the city, struggled under fire, smoke, grenade explosions and machine-gun bullets. Like other Mumbai residents with memories of life in the century-old hotel, it seemed like Mumbai itself was fighting for survival.

Each explosion seemed to confirm terrorist plans to blow up the Taj, similar to the Marriott, Islamabad. But like Mumbai, the Taj survived, and candlelights shone in serene triumph on the silent paved road between the Gateway of India and the hotel by the Arabian Sea.

Early December days are usually when the brown-uniformed housekeeping staff of the Taj hoist the hotel Christmas tree and lighted decorations in the marble lobby. But Santa won't be appearing in the hotel for maybe another year, as the Taj called its 1,500 employees for a meeting on December 1 to decide a future course of action.

Hours after security forces handed back the hotel to management on December 1, the Taj issued a statement at 1.00 pm on Monday saying the heritage building had been sealed, until risk assessment teams studied damage after the terrorist attack.

Also on Monday, a six-member Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) team that flew in from the United States spent two hours sifting through wrecked suites, blackened walls and bullet-ridden corridors of a hotel whose guest list is a who's who of the world, including kings, queens, presidents, the Beatles and Elvis Presley. The Americans were joined by a group from Britain's Scotland Yard.

India's Foreign Intelligence agency is reported to have said it received information in September that Pakistan-based terrorists planned attacks in Mumbai.

In Chicago, US president-elect Barack Obama said that militants in South Asia posed the biggest threat to the US, and emphasized his determination to fight terrorism. "We cannot tolerate a world where innocents are killed by extremists based on twisted ideologies," Obama told the media after announcing his national security team. "We're going to bring the full force of our power - not only military but also diplomatic, economic and political - to deal with those threats. Not only to keep America safe but also to ensure that peace and prosperity continue around the world."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to arrive in New Delhi on Wednesday for talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, to coordinate an India-US response following the terrorist attacks in which six US citizens were killed.

Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram was appointed the new home minister after his predecessor, Shivraj Patil, resigned on Sunday, accepting "moral responsibility" for the attacks.

In his first press conference in his new position, Chidambaram on Monday promised to take necessary action, and said the terrorist attacks were a "threat to the very idea of India, a threat to the soul of India that we know, that is secular, plural, open and tolerant. But I have no doubt that ultimately the idea of India will triumph."

But, perhaps for the first time ever, the emerging involvement of Pakistan in a horrific terrorist attack has so far been a side issue in India. Instead, public anger raged against Indian political leaders.

The repercussions were felt at an all-party meeting at Manmohan's residence in New Delhi on Sunday night. Patil and his counterpart in Mumbai, R K Patil, were the first heads to roll in what appears will be series of high-level resignations to appease furious citizens demanding accountability.

From street-level protests in Mumbai to news channel debates, a cross-section of Indian society expressed outrage at political leaders mouthing inanities after every terrorist attack.

"We want to honor those who have lost their lives and protest against politicians who did nothing," a Mumbai resident said. SMS messages went around Mumbai asking people to wear white clothes on Monday as a mark of respect to the dead.

Mumbai leaders turning up at funerals for terrorist victims were booed. When Kerala state chief minister V S Achuthanandan offered condolences to the father of National Security Guards commando Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, whom terrorists killed in the Taj Mahal while he was rescuing an injured comrade, the grieving father refused to meet the chief minister and told him to get out of the house.

Mumbai was stunned by the brutality of the attack, yet there seemed to be more shock and sadness than anger, that "boys" could unleash such a cold-blooded massacre of unarmed men, women and children. Hostages released from the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels narrated horrific stories of the terrorists, all under 30, smiling as they cold-bloodedly gunned down hotel guests.

The Indian media have for the past three days published updates of apparent confessions of the only surviving terrorist who was arrested by police on November 26. They intercepted Ajmal Amir Kasab in a hijacked Skoda car as he and his accomplice Ismail were heading to assault Malabar Hill, an elite residential area, to kill high-profile victims. Ismail was killed in the shootout, Kasab survived with a hand injury.

Produced in a Mumbai metropolitan magistrate court that sent him to police custody until December 11, Kasab has reportedly confessed to being part of a 25-member LET team extensively trained for a year in LET camps at Mansera and Muzzarafabad in Punjab province of Pakistan.

HNN reported on Monday that a small al-Qaeda attack intended for Kashmir changed into the major LET assault in Mumbai. The 25-member LET team was shortlisted to 10 handpicked murderers. Kasab told interrogators the attack was planned six months ago and they were asked to kill 5,000 people, particularly targeting Israelis and white American and British citizens. The Mumbai police said Kasab expressed no remorse or regret for what he had done.

Kasab is said to have told investigators the militants hijacked an Indian vessel to take them into Mumbai and the men, aged 18-28, then went ashore in a dinghy before splitting up to attack different targets.

The Indian government and media have refrained from strongly condemning Pakistan. In a measured statement, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said preliminary investigations pointed to "certain elements" in Pakistan being behind the terrorist attack.

India's newspapers and TV channels have also been regularly carrying protestations of innocence from the Pakistani army and political leadership, as well as reporting messages from the people of Pakistan. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said on Monday the gunmen were "non-state actors", and warned against letting their actions lead to greater regional enmity.

Leaders of the Muslim community in Mumbai have also acted against terrorists who misrepresent Islam. The Muslim Council said the Marine Lines Bada Qabrastan (cemetery) in Mumbai will refuse to bury the bodies of the nine terrorists killed by security forces. The council told reporters it was sending a message to all cemeteries in India that none of the bodies of terrorists who attacked India should be buried on Indian soil.

Similar calls for national solidarity and unity came from Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group that owns the Taj Mahal. "We must show that we cannot be disabled, divided or destroyed, but that such heinous acts will only make us stronger," he said in a statement.

Ratan Tata, Mumbai and India do not have to look far for inspiration. On November 29, Karimbir Kang, the general manager of the Taj Mahal, received news that the bodies of his wife Niti (40) and their sons Uday (14) and Samar (5) had been recovered from a locked bathroom in their residence in the hotel. They had been hiding from the terrorists, and possibly died of suffocation from a fire raging from explosions of grenades thrown by terrorists on the first night of the attack on November 26.

Kang did not waste time in seething with anger, or words of vengeance and self-pity. Instead, he contacted his chief, Ratan Tata, and consoled him: "Sir, we're going to beat this. We're going to build the Taj back into what it was. We're standing with you. We will not let this event take us down."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Are 'New Home' Prices Headed For Correction?

Last year’s hype over robust demand for housing and a spate of new launches seem to be over, with rising prices and falling sales volumes. And, as the inventories pile up in some select markets, the big question is — are the home prices headed for correction?

Home Prices have seen a substantial hike of 30-70 per cent across India during 2012. However, after experiencing sustained momentum, residential real estate sales started sliding towards Q4 of last year, leading to inventory build-up. 

A Knight Frank India study records 25 per cent drop in residential sales across India. In Mumbai market, home registrations are recorded at the lowest in two years. And developers have now been cautious about new launches in the wake of slowdown in sales in some markets. Knight Frank study predicts that home sales will remain damp even in the Q1cof 2013. 

Rising prices, falling sales
It’s the diminishing affordability, rising interest rates, tightening of funds among developers, oversupply and increasing input costs that have been playing spoil sport. 

As such, many home buyers have been waiting and watching for the impending correction before taking a plunge. Mumbai market has been the worst hit. This is clearly evident from record low sales. According to Liases Foras Real Estate Rating & Research, sales in Mumbai fell to 9.09 million square feet valued at Rs. 5747 crore in the first quarter of 2013, lowest since the first quarter of 2012. Liases Foras warns that Mumbai’s home market will stagnate over the next couple of years if the prices don’t correct in line with affordability, especially as the unsold stocks have piled up to 105 million square feet. 

According to Cushman & Wakefield, despite strong demand, upcoming large supply may result in declining real estate price in many areas of Mumbai. Crisil report too signals fall in prices. It predict about 10 per cent decline in prices that had breached the 2011 peak values by over 25 per cent. 

The situation in the other overheated market of Delhi-NCR is not as bad as Mumbai as affordability here is comparatively better. Crisil report notes that prices in the NCR are still about 20 per cent lower than the peak values though Liases Foras puts unsold stock in NCR at record 194 million square feet. Crisil report discounts any price correction and instead predicts marginal hike of 3-4 per cent. 

In contrast to the high priced markets of Mumbai and NCR, Southern markets are expected to remain more stable as prices there are more affordable, demand is genuine and supply is decent. Similarly in the eastern region, property prices are unlikely to see any noticeable change as it has been a stable market that did not witness sharp increase in prices. 

Road ahead for property prices
So, in this backdrop, where are the property prices headed in the coming months? Robert E Sulentic, Global President, CB Richard Ellis, believes that real estate being a cyclical business, future prices should reflect this, depending on supply-demand dynamics besides other factors like economic situation and infrastructure development. 

Om Chaudhary, MD, Fire Capital Fund, however thinks that price corrections in India are not realistic and logical as builders have vested interest of not allowing prices to drop in order to keep their networth intact. 

Anuj Puri, Chairman, Jones Lang Lasalle India endorses Chaudhary. “In the downturn during 2011-12, residential was the last segment to react and witness correction as developers continued to hold on to their prices. We still hold the opinion that residential property, especially the premium segment in NCR and Mumbai, is in a transition phase wherein developers are holding on to their prices. However, if sale velocities don’t improve in the next six months, there’s a definite correction on the cards, albeit a smaller one.” 

Deepak Parekh, Chairman, HDFC, too thinks that prices cannot be maintained at the present level. “If the supply increases significantly, developers will have to reduce prices marginally; that is by 5-10 per cent if they want to sell their projects.” 

Urvi Vora Jawala, VP (Residential), Narain Corp, says that 5-8 per cent correction (10-12 per cent in excess supply locations) is expected in next 4-6 months in Mumbai. 

But Sunil Aggrawal of South Asian Real Estate (SARE) does not see any significant price reduction as interest cost and construction costs are bound to rise and tax burden will further increase. 

Niranjan Hiranandani, MD, Hiranandani Group, foresees increase in volumes but no increase in prices and he discounts the possibility of oversupply. With hefty 37 per cent taxes and demand outstripping supply, he rules out price correction. Sanjeev Srivastva, MD, Assotech, expects prices to move up in the near future as he thinks that even if the supply of residential units is enhanced, increased demand on the back of improving economy and strengthening auto, banking, hospitality, manufacturing, IT/ITes sectors, will counter balance it. 

Industry captains from the South are unanimous in their opinion that there will be no price correction. 

Says JC Sharma, MD, Sobha Developers, “The current home prices are genuine. And with land prices remaining firm, input costs going up and demand outstripping supply, I don’t see any price correction.” 

Prakash Challa, MD, SSPDL Group, says that Bengaluru and Chennai markets have been reporting good sales though Hyderabad is still a depressed market due to excess built up space and political uncertainty. “ And as the price correction in South has already ended, I don’t see any further correction.” 

Chitty Babu, Chairman & CEO, Akshaya Homes too rules out price correction in view of demand outstripping supply. 

The assessment of the current scenario barely suggests that except for marginal correction in few overheated markets, correction may not happen elsewhere, Prices may remain stable and we may not witness any spurt in prices either. But then, overheated markets like Mumbai and Gurgaon face the spectre of speculation. 

Speculative pricing
Real estate analysts believe that the exceptionally high rise in property prices, especially in Mumbai & Delhi NCR, has a lot to do with spurt in speculative activity. It’s the speculators who have been responsible for creating artificial boom in sales, there by leading to unrealistically high upsurge in property prices. 

There have been reports of developers joining hands with dealers in the north to artificially boost sales and jack up prices. They have been taking to pre-launch route to create this artificial boom. And most often, it’s these dealers/underwriters who have been picking up the property in the pre-launch phase only to make a neat profit at the time of the launch. 

Vineet Singh, Business Head of 99 says that Mumbai and Delhi-NCR are the investor-driven markets and hence there has been speculators-led spurt in prices. 

Sachin Sandhir, MD, RICS, adds that 30-60 per cent of speculative sales have been responsible for runaway increase in prices. 

Sanjay Dutt, CEO, (Business), Jones Lang Lasalle India, avers that 65 per cent of total recent home purchases in Delhi and 35 per cent in Mumbai are done by speculators. 

Investment scenario
But then how does the current real estate environment bode for the end-users and investors? Generally speaking, real estate as an asset class is quite attractive and in the last two decades it has given highest returns compared to any other asset class. And realty experts believe that this positive scenario will remain in the coming years as well. Most experts will bet on residential real estate especially as demand for housing will remain for many years to come. Also, it’s the safest asset class unlike commercial realty, which has different dynamics with greater risk for retail investors. 

In the realm of residential real estate, investment at right time and right location with investment horizon of over five years can double. Otherwise too, residential property including apartments, houses, independent floors, etc.give an average IRR of 20 per cent during construction stage. And even if there is a short-term correction in markets like Mumbai and Delhi, capital value will only go up in the longer run. But while short-term investment may be risky, any investment with a 5-7 years window could well fetch a return in the range of 35-75 per cent. 

As such notwithstanding the anticipated correction in some select markets, property experts would suggest to go for residential real estate investment now. Says Niranjan Hiranandani, “I can’t say about investors but as far as genuine home buyers are concerned, they should take a plunge now as I don’t see any price correction happening in near future. And as for home loan rates, they keep changing every now and then and we can’t rely on them for investment decisions.” 

Adds Anuj Puri, “For genuine buyers, current prices offer good opportunity since they are buying a house for a long term, which would rationalise the costs they are incurring today. On the other hand, investors are typically looking for a shorter term and hence are more sensitive to the near term cycles.” He suggests that buyers in the affordable segment can choose to decide on a property which is at initial phases of implementation, and thus at lower rate, if an early possession is not the critical issue. 

Urvi Vora Jawala, endorses the views of both Puri and Hiranandani. She suggests that it is the right time to invest for the actual users. However she cautions investors to wait for the next six months. 

So, which are the hot investment destinations? Growth corridors and satellite/suburban towns of prime cities are being tipped to be high potential zones. Southern markets, according to investment advisors, are attractive as prices are low and market is driven by genuine end-users. 

According to a recent survey by 99, Mumbai and Gurgaon will be hot investors’ markets, offering about 30 per cent return. 

As far as high potential corridors are concerned, besides Greater Noida and Noida Extension, Golf Course Road Extension, Dwarka-Gurgaon Road, and Sohna Road in Gurgaon are the best bets, In Bengaluru, Hosur Corridor leading to Electronics City and Bellary Road Corridor, leading to International Airport have been rated as the best peripheral locations. In Chennai, OMR and Great Southern Trunk Road, and in Pune, Aundh, Hadspar, Kondhwa and Wakad are the preferred suburban destinations for profitable investments. 

So, you can make most of the investment opportunity even if you are on the horns of price dilemma. 

Investment Hot Spots - Mapping price appreciation trends Pan India
• Investors are sitting on a return of 128 per cent on their investments within a single year time frame at Golf Course Road, Gurgaon. Average psf rates have moved from Rs. 3757 in the first quarter of 2010 to Rs. 8576 by Q4 of 2011. Since the rate of increase appears to be plateauing this last quarter, if you want to maximize your returns, it is best to exit at this point. A three-digit return is something that this area might not be able to sustain over a longer time period, but that depends on the holding capacity of the investor. If a return of 128 per cent is good enough, it is time, for pure investors to cash out. 

• Juhu in Mumbai was the next most attractive destination for investors, giving a 90 per cent return within the last one year despite already being the seventh most expensive locality in the country. We’re talking a base price of almost Rs. 12,100 psf going up to almost Rs. 23,000 by the end of the year. Even Panvel, in Navi Mumbai, which has come up as an alternative to the very expensive maintown Mumbai, could give a return of 52 per cent in this past one year despite the fact that there is more aggressive investor activity around Navi Mumbai as compared to more rental and resident activity in SW Mumbai. 

• On the whole, the top ten movers in terms of real estate gain in India were split between Gurgaon and Navi/South West Mumbai with the exception of Pune hogging the third place. Koregaon Park appreciated by 74 per cent, just after Golf Course Road, Gurgaon and Juhu, in Mumbai. 

• The largest quarter on quarter price appreciation when we compare 2011-Q1 data with 2010-Q4 data, took place in North Delhi-in Rohini—where investors made a killing at 28 per cent return within a single quarter. This was more than what investors in Rohini made over the entire year, which was just 25 per cent return. In 2010-Q4 psf rates were around 6380 and in 2011-Q1, the rate was pegged at 8165. 

• The localities across the country that have seen maximum gain over the last two quarters is Rohini (Delhi), Chembur (Mumbai), Panvel (Navi Mumbai), HSR Layout (South Bengaluru), in this order. 

• NCR: Gurgaon strode ahead of all other regions as the choicest destination for residents and investors. Despite all the noise, Noida appeared totally low key in the final analysis with an average of 10-11 per cent return in the past one year. What is even more noteworthy is that Faridabad and Ghaziabad appeared to have lost out completely with a loss in capital value of 48 per cent and 12 per cent respectively. This could therefore be a good time to purchase property in these areas for end users. 

• Mumbai, Palm Beach in Navi Mumbai saw a drop in rates of almost 12 per cent in the last one year. All other localities in Mumbai rose on the whole with the star performers being Mumbai South & South West. Gains made across the year appeared to slow down with some localities already dropping value such as Powai and Khar in the last quarter. 

• Bengaluru investor hotspots such as Whitefield and Bannerghatta saw a withdrawal of sorts with capital values dropping in double digits in last one quarter itself. Whitefield’s, psf rates fell by 13 per cent and Bannerghatta’s, by 14 per cent. Hebbal, another hot destination for real estate investors traditionally, saw a downtrend of almost 6 per cent over the past one year. Bengaluru, on the whole saw a lot of volatility with some areas gaining value in double digits and others losing these in double digits. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why Asian-Arab Cricketers Galore In UAE Team At #CWC15

The cricket team of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the flotsam and jetsam of international cricket. Its players are mostly rejects of their native countries' cricket selectors. They played cricket once. But they gave up the sport and the dreams it once promised them to take up jobs in this oil-rich Gulf country. Now, they are playing the sport once again, and that too, at cricket's marquee tournament: the ICC World Cup.

Among members of this UAE team of Emiratis (just two of them), Pakistani and Sri Lankan salesmen, flight attendants and bankers who moonlight as cricketers, is a receptionist at a construction company from India who was given a promotion as sales executive when he was selected to play for the UAE.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Social Discrimination: How Bias Against Muslim Flat Seekers Came To Be Entrenched In Mumbai City?

In Indian cities which was a symbol of democratic and secular culture, now becoming a hub of social discriminiation. Mumbai witnessed a row of incidents, first the refusal of job being a muslim and now, denial of flat to a muslim girl. 

Public relations professional Misbah Quadri, 25, uncovered Mumbai’s worst-kept secret of two decades when she approached the National Human Rights Commission this week with a complaint that she had been forced to vacate a legitimately leased apartment because she is Muslim. It certainly isn’t the first case of its kind in the place that is usually touted as India’s most cosmopolitan metropolis.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Mumbai Port At The Crossroads

By M H Ahssan

Are the expansion plans of Mumbai port putting a question mark on its coexistence with Mumbai city

The Mumbai Port Trust has just decided to bury a bit of history, and the greens are not happy about it. Two of the port’s oldest docks — the Prince’s and Victoria — will be filled up to make way for a new offshore container terminal. Both the docks, built in 1885 and 1891 to provide access for small ships, are now in disuse. The Rs 1,228-crore terminal will be developed by the Indira Container Terminal Pvt Ltd (ICTPL), a joint venture between construction firm Gammon India and Spain’s leading port group Dragados SPL. The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) will cover the cost of dredging and filling up the docks, estimated at Rs 366 crore.

“The process will give the port an additional 40 hectares,” says MbPT’s Chairman Rahul Asthana. “From this reclaimed waterfront, a trestle or a concrete pathway on piles in the sea will connect traffic movement to four new berthing stations.”

With a deep draught of 14.6 metres for the open-sea berths, MbPT hopes to increase its traffic of large vessels. “The filling work has started, but it will gather pace only after the monsoons. We expect the berths to be operational by December 2010,” says Asthana.

The MbPT chairman concedes the issue is contentious. Showing an artist’s image of what Prince’s and Victoria could become — a luscious water sports seafront replete with docked yachts, and the city’s glitterati making their way on their speed boats — Asthana says there had been intense industry lobbying for converting the heritage docks into a waterfront marina. But the Ministry of Surface Transport rejected this idea in favour of enhancing the port’s capacity and revenue-generating operations.

A port trustee and president of the All India Port and Dock Workers Federation, Shanti Patel, hints darkly that the pressure for a stylish marina is coming from the Mukesh Ambani-backed Jai Corp that is seeking to develop the alternative port of Rewas across Mumbai’s harbour. On the other hand, environmentalist Shyam Chainani, whose Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) has consistently opposed increase in port traffic for the past two decades, says the move will heighten congestion in the city. “Nowhere in the world has city heritage been extinguished like this,” he says.

But, ironically, nowhere in the world are port operations, stretching over a 14.5-km arc on the eastern seaboard of the island city, enmeshed so hopelessly into one of the most densely populated cities of the world. The port operations pass through the city’s transport networks. Also, the posh business district of Ballard Estate, which houses several businesses and markets, is located on the port land.

That is why the 1,860 acres of land owned by MbPT becomes a contentious issue. In fact, it is variously seen as a panacea by many — the state government sees it as a remedy to the city’s overcrowding; for planners and environmentalists it is a chance to decongest the city; and for scores of builders, it is a goldmine for development. So, which way will the Mumbai port go?

Expanding Growth
The Mumbai port has grown at a steady clip defying wishful thinking that it is shedding traffic over the years to sister port Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) across the harbour at Nhava Sheva and other west-coast ports such as Kandla. But it has increased its cargo handling from 26 million tonnes (MT) in 2001-02 to 44 MT in 2005-06, and notched up 57 MT in 2007-08. Its operating surplus has also grown from Rs 47 crore in FY05 to Rs 263 crore in FY08. But in 2009, it slumped with the fall in exports and imports to Rs 123 crore.

However, there are signs that MbPT has turned into a dinosaur. With an employee strength of 18,700 today, it is the biggest employer among the major ports in India, with one-third of the country’s port labour of 57,000. But in cargo handling, it has slipped to fifth position after Kandla, Visakhapatnam, JNPT and Chennai. The highly mechanised JNPT, with a labour force of 1,400 that handles container traffic, notched up 55 MT in FY09 compared to the Mumbai port’s 52 MT. MbPT’s wage bill — Rs 350 crore in FY08 and close to Rs 488 crore in FY2009 — accounts for a whopping 60 per cent of the port’s operating income.

In this context, increasing container traffic and converting the defunct docks to container handling terminals seem to be a sensible business decision. The new terminals with railway connectivity are expected to handle as much as 1.2 million TEUs (container units). “From a paltry 118,000 TEUs in FY08, traffic will rise to 6.7 million TEUs in 2010-11, and touch 15.8 million TEUs in 2016-17. While JNPT is expected to level out at 11.6 million TEUs, we will be handling 36.4 million TEUs by 2025,” says Asthana, citing a KPMG survey.

Going Against The Plan
But this growth trajectory was not the future envisaged for the Mumbai port three decades ago by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. When JNPT was being planned in the 1980s, and faced stiff opposition from environmental lobbies, the port was given the green signal on the ground that it would help decongest overcrowded Mumbai. The idea was to slowly get the Mumbai port to reduce operations and use the surplus land to green the city.

A directive issued on 8 August 1980 by the Prime Minister’s Office said when considering plans for JNPT “the feasilbility report should provide for the release of land and dock areas in existing Bombay Port area for parks, etc”. Interpreting this directive, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) laid down detailed guidelines when it gave clearance to JNPT in August 1988. “With the operation of Nhava Sheva port as a measure of decongestion of Bombay Port, the traffic in Bombay Port must be gradually reduced by steps to be taken by the Ministry of Surface Transport, Bombay Port Trust and Nhava Sheva Port Trust so that the total general cargo, inclusive of container cargo handled by Bombay Port, comes down within three years to 6.5 MT.”

The MoEF directions further stated: “The Ministry of Surface Transport and Bombay Port Trust must take action to gradually make the land of Bombay Port, which is not required for operational purposes of the port, available for greening and recreation.”

Meanwhile, a look at the global scenario shows that docks within city precincts ultimately give way to more pressing urban demands, and are shifted to independent port towns some distance from the main city. For instance, in the 1800s, Canary Wharf in London was one of the busiest docks in the world. The port industry began to decline by the 1950s, and the docks had to shut down in 1980. Several business groups, led by Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), backed an alternative plan for a business district there. Today, Canary Wharf is a bustling financial centre with London’s tallest buildings and wealthiest tenants.

In July 2007, at a land policy meeting, MbPT’s then Deputy Chairman Ashok Bal tried to draw a distinction in respect of the Mumbai port. He said though other ports such as Kandla and JNPT had taken away substantial traffic from Mumbai and reduced the hinterland it served, cargo handling at the port continued to gallop. This showed “the economic development of the Mumbai region demanded continued existence of the Mumbai port”.

But the state government holds a contrarian view. “We opposed the development of the container terminal at the docks knowing it would increase congestion. But it was a fait accompli,” says U.P.S. Madan, convenor of the Maharashtra government’s Mumbai Transformation Support Unit. “The port land needs to be used for greening the city, and the port operations must be shifted out or gradually closed.”

The Demand For Land
Over the past two to three years, there has been an incessant demand from the state government that part of MbPT’s surplus land be used for the city’s development. The state empowered committee that monitors the city’s development, chaired by Chief Secretary D. Shankaran, formally raised the issue with MbPT in November 2006. However, Bal said there was little land to spare. In his tally, the surplus land was a measely 12 acre.

However, a recent land policy presentation of the port trust revealed that more port land was leased out than used for port’s own operations. Of the total 1,860 acre the port owns, 486 acre was used for dock operations, while properties leased out covered about 868 acre or 46 per cent of the total land. MbPT’s tenants include government bodies, public sector units and 2,886 private tenants including the Taj Mahal Hotel, Unilever factory and the Ballard Estate.

Asthana says a substantial part of his administration was devoted to administering these tenanted estates. Port records show leases for 379 properties accounting for 43 per cent of the land had expired and MbPT was not able to wrest the land back. In the process, the port became the second largest litigant, after the municipal corporation, with 1,800 cases pending in courts. Quips Asthana: “We also run a port.”

Finally, wilting under pressure from the public and the state government, MbPT, in August 2006, decided to settle the issue by formulating a land policy for the port. It set up a committee of port trustees that included Bal and two labour representatives, S.R. Kulkarni and Shanti Patel. The minutes of a meeting of the committee (July 2007) show Bal vigorously defending the existence of the Mumbai port, but conceding that in the 1988 talks with MoEF, a master plan of the port had earmarked about 131 acres as “green areas and public amenities”.

Patel has a different take. “MbPT has a lot of land, and it should be used in public interest. The trust should not behave like a private landlord,” Patel told BW. He, however, says MbPT, set up as an autonomous body under the Major Port Trusts Act of 1963, was never allowed to function independently, and was ruled by “guidelines” of the surface transport ministry through the chairman’s office. Not surprisingly, considering these pulls and tugs, three years after it was formed, the committee of trustees is still to release the land policy.

Integrating With The City?
Along with the Rs 1,288-crore container terminal at the Victoria and Prince’s docks, MbPT has two significant projects on its agenda that it hopes will integrate the port with the city’s needs. A Rs 133-crore investment has been planned to develop rail transport through the dock areas to ease the load on the arterial road networks. The plan to develop a dedicated railway line, linking the dockyard hub, Wadala, to the central railway hub, Kurla, will speed up cargo dispersal. Though mooted in 2006, the project has been held up due to delay in rehabilitating the 1,700 slum units that are on the railroad alignment, says Asthana.

The second project, the construction of the Eastern Freeway, a road which starts from south Mumbai and exits at Chembur in the north, has kicked off with a 5-km section running on port trust land on elevated stilts. The Rs 300-crore 27-km freeway, though not a port trust project, is being developed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to provide a rapid exit for the city and ease traffic congestion. However, MbPT has given free land for the project and invested Rs 35 crore to develop the Anik-Panjarpur link road connecting the Eastern Freeway. Slated to be completed in December 2007, the freeway is now three years behind schedule.

Though Asthana is not insistent that the port has no land to spare, as was claimed by his predecessor Bal, he says development of the port land must be commercially beneficial to MbPT. “The trust is not against giving land for the development of the city. But we would want to do it ourselves, and on terms that are financially advantageous to us,” Asthana emphasises. “It should be part of a city master plan, and should not hamper port operations.”

Madan, who heads Maharashtra’s Mumbai Planning Cell, says his team is in the process of preparing a concept plan that would include the port trust land in “a single integrated vision” to improve and decongest the city.

To start with, land relinquished by lessees of the port trust could be pressed into city development projects, such as the four acres that the Central Warehousing Corporation returned a month ago. However, until the pundits in the surface transport ministry realise that Mumbai port has to reinvent itself as part of the rapidly changing megalopolis, all we will have is short-term, knee-jerk responses.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


By M H Ahssan

...say a majority of Indians. But don’t give up Kashmir to buy peace for the rest of India

With less than a fortnight gone after the terror attacks in Mumbai, young Mumbaikars are seething and in a mood for unilateral, aggressive action, whatever the consequences. Young urbanites in some of India’s other biggest cities are only a little less in ‘do it now’ mood.

The responses to a whole slew of questions on who must take the blame for the attack and what should be done to tackle the menace drew unequivocal answers from Mumbai respondents in particular. Clearly the city is at the end of its tether and fed up of being repeatedly targeted.

To a question on whether the Pakistani government supported the attacks, for example, the answer was a loud Yes from 100% of those polled in Mumbai. But it wasn’t as if in other cities there were too many people willing to buy Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari’s ‘non-state actors’ line. Between 77% and 94% in the other cities too rejected that theory.

So should India take out the terror training camps in Pakistan irrespective of the consequences? Again 100% of Mumbai respondents said yes, but in cities like Chennai and Bangalore this was a minority view. Somewhat surprisingly, the strongest support for such strikes apart from Mumbai, of course came from Kolkata, Lucknow and Pune, cities that have not really felt the heat of terror too much.

On the question of whether India should immediately snap all commercial and social links with Pakistan, there was a more even response across cities other than Mumbai, which again gave a 100% thumbs up to the suggestion. However, Delhi was noticeably less enthusiastic about it than most other cities, perhaps because of its greater social and cultural links with Pakistani cities.

Mumbai — more than any other city — is for the idea of India presenting all the hard evidence about Pakistan’s involvement in the terror strikes to the United Nations Security Council. That, however, is clearly not a sign that young Mumbaikars are willing to wait for the international community to act to solve India’s problem. Whereas only 59% overall expressed the view that terror is a problem that India must solve on its own, in Mumbai 98% were for such a course.

Who in the political leadership must pay the price for a failure of such a magnitude with such drastic consequences? Interestingly, while 43% overall felt the PM too must carry the can, only 11% in Mumbai shared this view. In Chennai, in contrast, 87% said the PM too must be held accountable. Respondents were allowed to make more than one choice in their response to the question.

Will P Chidambaram do a much better job than Shivraj Patil in the area of internal security? About 60% overall thought he would and only 26% disagreed, but worryingly for the current home minister, one of the cities less optimistic on this count was Chennai, the capital of his home state.

The responses to a question on whether any other party could have handled terror better were also very interesting. Not only did over three-fourths of those in Mumbai say no party would have done a better job, 78% in Narendra Modi’s Ahmedabad too expressed this view. Clearly young urban Indians are not willing to accept any political party’s claims to being tough on terror.

Should India be willing to let go of Kashmir if that means buying peace for the rest of the country? The overall response is along expected lines with 76% rejecting the idea. But what’s interesting is that in Delhi a majority are willing to make that tradeoff and perhaps more surprisingly in Ahmedabad too 38% weren’t averse to it.

Is India paying for wrong policies adopted by the developed world towards Islamic nations? Over 60% thought it was, with Mumbai once again agreeing wholeheartedly. In contrast, in the three southern cities, opinion on the issue was almost evenly divided. Mumbai apart, Ahmedabad was the city in which the largest proportion of respondents see the West as having to share the blame for the predicament we face.

One of the tougher options posed in the questionnaire was whether defence budgets should be cut so that more money can be allocated for internal security. It was truly revealing about the extent of the insecurity felt by urban Indians that a majority (56%) said yes and only 2% found it a difficult choice to make.

Support for the idea of cutting defence budgets to accommodate more spending on homeland security was strongest in Bangalore (93%). In the northern cities of Lucknow and Jaipur, however, a majority felt this was not a very good idea.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Singing Canary in a Terrorist Opera

By Raja Murthy & M H Ahssan

"Jihad means to kill, become famous and make God happy," captured terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab reportedly answered interrogating Mumbai police when asked to define "jihad", or "holy war", a term some militants use to justify violence.

Police officials also claimed Kasab could not recite any verse in the Koran, the Islamic holy book, and that he admitted that money tempted him to enlist in the November 26 terrorist attack on Mumbai, along with nine others, all of whom were killed. The seaborne assault last week launched from outside India killed 183 people and injured over 300.

After officially banned Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) promised to compensate Kasab's impoverished family in Faridkot village in Pakistan's Punjab province, Kasab's father asked him to join the LET a year ago, according to the "confession".

Twenty-one-year old Kasab was captured by Mumbai police at Girgaum Chowpatty on Marine Drive during their three-night siege of two luxury hotels and a Jewish community center in south Mumbai.

Kasab is a rare prize: a terrorist captured alive on a suicide mission. He is also the center of a mystery because there have been no coherent or consistent accounts of his statements to authorities.

The captured terrorist's contradictory explanations are mirrored in India's confused official response to what's being described as the world's most audacious and brutal urban terrorist attack since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Indian and international media professionals for the past week have have not had access to any coordinated government briefings on the crisis. There is no spokesperson or even official statements clearly underlining India's position.

For instance, on the afternoon of December 2, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee ruled out India launching military action against Pakistan. By night, however, Mukherjee was reported to have said nothing was ruled out on how to respond to Pakistan.

On December 3, Mukherjee declared that India's response will be based on what action Pakistan takes to deliver on Indian demands, such as handing over a list of "20 Most Wanted" fugitives said to be in Pakistan.

But later that day, Mukherjee silently stormed past reporters asking him to respond to news that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had bluntly refused to hand over any fugitive to India.

In the absence of a strong leader to calm, reassure and direct a shocked nation, India's ministers, officials, generals, admirals and police officials appear to be irresponsibly ad-libbing in front of TV cameras and media persons.

India's lack of leadership was conspicuous on the evening of December 3 as hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets in nationwide marches in which angry participants demanded action. Pakistan's silence has added to public fury.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew to Bangalore to attend a function while New Delhi boiled in a crisis with global ramifications, and an estimated 100,000 Mumbai residents marched to the Gateway of India near the Taj Mahal hotel seized by terrorists a week ago. Manmohan is yet to visit Mumbai since the terrorists' strike.

The government mishandling of the events of the past week come off like a badly directed terrorist opera. The only thing keeping the situation from appearing farcical are the 183 people from over 10 countries who lost their lives, and the subsequent aggressive posturing of nuclear-armed neighbors.

Matching India's tragic confusion this week, are the differing "confessions" of LET-recruit Kasab which are splashing across Indian and international media through a series of unnamed sources.

Kasab is to appear in court December 11. According to Indian law, he has the right to disown his entire confession made to the police by claiming was made under duress.

Fifteen Mumbai police officers are interrogating Kasab. Apparently each one is sneaking his version of proceedings to media contacts, with the Maharashtra state government too busy with its own woes to plug leaks. After a week-long struggle for survival, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was sacked. The firing followed the resignations of Indian home minister Shivraj Patil and Mumbai counterpart R R Patil.

With the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, Israeli police and Scotland Yard joining in the interrogations, more versions of Kasab's statements can be expected until Mumbai police reveal videos of his recorded testimony.

Kasab's name and nationality were confirmed by Mumbai Police Commissioner Hassan Gafoor on December 2 in his first press conference after the terrorist attacks.

The rest of Kasab's alleged confessions appear to be bewildering contradictions. According to one version, Kasab confessed to being a small-time pickpocket in Pakistan who joined the LET to get arms training to further his career in crime.

In another version, the captured terrorist allegedly said he was just an impoverished village youth with little education. But one early report claimed that he speaks fluent English.

According to other reports, Kasab said he was sent on a suicide mission after promises of money and a Kashmiri bride.

The Mumbai police have neither denied nor confirmed any reported statements of this suicidal terrorist who is apparently singing like the proverbial canary to his captors.

The Mumbai daily Afternoon Dispatch & Courier twirled another version on December 2. Quoting "sources", the report said interrogating senior police officers suspected Kasab and his fellow terrorists had been using drugs like LSD to induce the daring and stamina needed to last the 60-hour siege without sleep. The use of mind-altering drugs was also used to explain the inconsistency of Kasab's statements.

India's Muslim leaders moved quickly to distance Islam from terrorists. Muslim religious leaders have refused to allow burial of the nine terrorists in Muslim cemeteries in Mumbai and across India, saying terrorists who attacked India should not be buried in "holy Indian soil ".

"The terrorists do not deserve to be buried as Muslims because killing and harming anyone is not permitted in Islam," Mohammad Farooq, elderly owner of a perfume shop in Mohammad Ali Road, told HNN on a visit Mumbai's Muslim-majority area on December 3. "As a Muslim, I'm not even permitted to slap you."

The Mohammad Ali Road area, barely two kilometers away from the main railway station that terrorists struck a week ago, was bustling peacefully. Protest marchers, including many Muslims, had gathered across the city to denounce terrorists. There was no trace of tension, or fear of a communal backlash from the majority community.

"We Indian Muslims are happy and I have been here for 55 years," said perfume shop owner Farooq, who handed over a small booklet of the Koran. "People in Pakistan who wrongly think Muslims in India are suffering can come and see for themselves instead of believing propaganda."

As the evening sky blushed red to welcome the night, the strong fragrance from attar (flower-based perfume) shops mingled with the smoky smell of kebabs and freshly baked bread and wafted through the congested, narrow cobblestone area of minarets and mosques, burqa-clad women and men in skull caps. This Muslim-majority area in the heart of Mumbai could be been mistaken for Old Delhi, Lahore, Karachi, Tehran, Istanbul or Baghdad.

"The tragedy is that most Muslims don't really read the Koran," said Younis, partner of Taj Publishers, near the Gulshan-e-Iran restaurant, which prints and exports copies of the Islamic holy book. "For 65 years in this work, I see people buying the Holy Book, but not reading it. Understanding it is far away."

Perhaps if Kasab the loose-lipped terrorist and his kind had tried to understand the Koran, the blood-soaked nightmare of November 26 might never have happened.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'Where An Ageing Police, Never Caught Up With A City'

By Ankita Kirkere / Mumbai

Live in denial if you will, but here is a fact: Urbs prima in Indis, that generous colonial christening, is a title that no longer sits well on Mumbai’s furrowed brow. In fact, this city has lost every title she earned, and deservedly so: No longer fashion capital, definitely not culture/film capital, the less said about doing business in Mumbai the better, completely ignored by international gigs, never a big food destination. And if that was not enough, rapid urban decay is matched here by even more alarming social decay, led ably by the moral police and the language chauvinists, oftentimes one and the same.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Meltdown, terror cast shadow over tourism

By Subia Khan

The Mumbai terror strike has served a another blow to the meltdown-struck tourism industry this year. Until last year many Hyderabadis planned their Christmas and New Year celebrations in Goa, travelling to the city of sea beaches via Mumbai, but this year the numbers have plummeted, hitting hard the sector that was hoping to cash in on at least the holiday season rush.

Local tour operators, who have been battling the recession for the past three months, rue that people are wary of travelling to Mumbai in particular and of stepping out of their homes in general this festive season. They are now even witnessing cancellations of packages booked by NRIs and foreign tourists as many visit the country at this time of the year to enjoy the longish Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year break.

“Failure of this peak season is going to be a huge loss,” laments P Ramesh, chief executive, Model Travels. He points out that the flights from Hyderabad to Mumbai, that once were booked heavily, are now almost vacant. “The number of flyers to Mumbai has dropped,” he says. In fact, the day after the terrorists struck, there were 20 per cent cancellations in the bookings to Mumbai, he says.

Some operators are now counting losses and not the number of deals they have struck. Satya Narayan S, manager of Check In Tours and Travels, calculates his firm’s daily loss at Rs 30,000. “Last year, we saw at least 15-20 daily bookings to Mumbai at the start of December. Not one booking has been made this year,” he says. Operators such as Raj Travels explain that 25 per cent of all their travellers tour Mumbai at this time of the year as Mumbai and Goa remain the hotspots for Christmas and New Year celebrations. “Since most make Mumbai their point to enter Goa, they are all the more wary of travelling to Mumbai as they still think it’s unsafe,” says M A Saleem, manager, Raj Travels. The deadly combination of terror and meltdown has cost his firm a depressing 60 per cent loss.

Tour operators say that owing to Christmas vacations, India sees an inflow of tourists from the US who then buy domestic packages within India. “Number of such tourists has come down by over 40 per cent in this week alone and shows no signs of getting any better. With no fresh bookings for January and February now, we are expecting even worse times,” says Ramesh.

Meanwhile, for other metros too people aren’t exactly keen on risking a vacation. Kerala is still the safest option which has seen some bookings this season, say operators.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Closing time for India's Iranian cafes

By M H Ahssan

As India and Iran struggle over recent oil and nuclear power squabbles, a quaintly delicious cultural link between the two ancient civilizations is also fighting for survival, with the famously cranky Iranian cafes sliding into extinction in Mumbai.

Iranian cafes are century-old landmarks in India's financial capital and perhaps Asia's oldest surviving genre of restaurants. Their bun maska (crusty buns split and spread with butter), kari (fluffy) biscuits, custard pies, puddings and paani kum chai (thick milky tea) are as much part of cosmopolitan Mumbai as cheesecakes in New York or croissants on the sidewalk cafes in Paris.

Iranian cafes appeared in Mumbai and Karachi (now in Pakistan) after their Zoroastrian-Iranian owners came to India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They followed earlier settlers from Persia, followers of the Prophet Zoroaster (628 BC-551 BC), also called Zarathushtra. The surviving Parsi community in India is hailed as the world's last bastion of the ancient Iranian-Zoroastrian religion.

From an estimated 350 Iranian restaurants in the 1950s, barely 25 survived into the year 2008. Landmarks such as Cafe Darayush, Cafe De La Paix (modeled after the original that opened in 1862 at Place del'Opera in Paris), Original Persian Restaurant and Kyani were popular hangouts for journalists, stockbrokers, tourists, college students and young couples dating back to English colonial times.

With their distinct and sombre decor, the most famous Iranian cafe contribution to Indian urban folklore was their stern admonishments to patrons - the kind unlikely to be found in any restaurant in the world. Iranian cafes generally place trademark notices of dire warnings to customers. Among the classics:

Food will not be served to over drunken persons

Do not sit for too long

Do not argue with waiters

Do not wash hands on plates

Those misbehaving with customers and waiters will be handed over to police.

In delicious irony - and starkly standing out against current Iranian-Israeli enmity - Jewish-Indian poet Nizzim Ezekiel (1924-2004), immortalized India's Iranian restaurants in a 1972 poem called Irani Restaurant Instructions.

Do not spit
Do not sit more
Pay promptly, time is valuable
Do not write letter
without order refreshment
Do not comb,
hair is spoiling floor
Do not make mischief in cabin
our waiter is watching
Come again
All are welcome whatever caste
If not satisfied tell us
otherwise tell others
God Is Great.

But these amusingly solemn shrines to yesteryear are losing out to real estate sharks, burger chains, pizza parlors and the like. Inheritance squabbles are rife between Iranian owners and an educated younger generation disinterested in running a low-cost tea shop.

More poignantly, the extinction of Iranian cafes parallels the threat to the entire Parsi community, which now has barely 70,000 survivors living in Mumbai.

The Parsis, among India's tiniest ethnic minorities, have disproportionately contributed some of India's most dazzling success stories. Ratan Tata, for example, is chairman of Tatas, one of Asia's largest corporate houses. His predecessor, JRD Tata, founded the India's civil aviation industry, and the late Sam Maneckshaw was India's first field marshal and chief of staff. Zubin Mehta was once conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and is now lifetime conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. And not to forget the late Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, the legendary lead singer of the rock band Queen.

Historians say that the early Iranian migrants, largely from rural Iran, worked in the homes of Parsis who were among the upper social strata of migrants from Iran. The workers gathered in evenings to swap stories about their homeland. At such homesick gatherings, many served tea for a small fee. Thus was born, says Mumbai urban legend, the Iranian cafe.

One Iranian cafe survivor, the Army Restaurant and Cafe, near the international tourist hotspot Colaba, was in a breakfast buzz when this correspondent dropped by on a recent Saturday morning. Ali Mohammad, an archetypal Iranian restaurant manager, was hollering injunctions - punctuated with lurid curses - to the kitchen to deliver the trademark paani kum tea (less water, more milk version). "Since 1936", he explains, "the British army stayed in the building and that's how we got the name Army Restaurant."

According to Mohammed, a major threat to his restaurant is the squabbles between descendants of the original owners over lucrative multi-million dollar property deals involving inherited Iranian cafes that now occupy prime real estate.

In July 1999, a dispute among partners killed one of Mumbai's most famous landmarks, Cafe Naaz, the Iranian restaurant atop the elite residential area of Malabar Hill. The six disputing partners failed to renew the municipality license and Mumbai - particularly its young couples - lost a cozy open-air restaurant with a view of the city lights below and starry skies above.

Some remaining Iranian cafes, such as Cafe Mundegar and the more internationally famous Leopold Cafe in Colaba, transformed themselves into airy pubs that are now favorite watering holes for Western tourists in Mumbai. As with classic Iranian cafe tradition, the restaurants occupy the corner of a building and have two entrances: one never bumps into an entering or exiting customer.

The classic versions still remain, like the century-old Yazdani Bakery on Cawasji Patel Street, near the grand Parsi Fire Temple. Yazdani, in the 1940s, was one of Asia's most famous bakeries, with wedding cakes said to be exported to Japan.

Sadly, Iranian restaurants face similar problems across the Pakistan border in Karachi. Seventy percent of the over 100 Iranian cafes open during the 1960s have now closed their doors, estimated the leading local daily newspaper Jung. Indian-Persian culinary links to an ancient shared culture - such as Cafe Jehangir, Cafe Darakshan, Cafe Pehlvi and Cafe India - have disappeared or are disappearing in the southern port city of Karachi, swallowed by the inescapable truth that everything must change, and nothing lasts forever.

The vanishing Iranian restaurants leave behind poignant reminders, both to newly arrived tourists and to those who from childhood have eagerly dunked bun maska in Iranian tea.

"If asked to quickly pick three random images from my consciousness to define this city [Mumbai], I'd pick the Iranian cafes, the Fiat taxi and the Stock Exchange Building - in that order," wrote leading film animator Gautam Benegal in the blog "Irani Chai Mumbai". "And if anything symbolizes the cosmopolitan nature of this city, it is the corner Iranian [cafe]."

Mumbai's cosmopolitan texture, so aptly represented by the endangered Iranian cafes, is also under threat. Regional chauvinism has in recent weeks sparked violent attacks on north Indian immigrants to Mumbai. Political goons have also vandalized the city's black Fiat taxis, owned largely by immigrant north Indians from Uttar Pradesh state.

Like its quaint old Iranian cafes, the status of Mumbai as a worldly financial capital of Asia and sister city of New York is also under threat.