Mumbai in 2023: Of double deckers, pollution, BMC’s beautification, civic movements and shrinking Aarey…

Looking back at 2023, the year that was, through our team's work on various issues in India's financial capital Mumbai.

Another year goes by and most of us, who are not directly affected, are watching the world in turmoil helplessly from a distance. Whether it is extreme violence and massacre of human rights in Gaza or the tepid COP 28 commitments for climate action. Closer home, there is a record number of suspensions of members of our parliament and passage of bills without debates, raising disturbing questions about India’s democratic structures.

And then in Mumbai, one has almost gotten used to the fact that the city has not had the municipal elections so as to expect our elected representatives to do something about the unending construction, resultant pollution and so on.

As if all this was not enough, we are secretly panicking about the new variant of Covid JN.1. 

So expectedly, to mark the year end festivities, some celebrations are muted, some are enthusiastic as always. And yet, like a habit that doesn’t go, this time of the year makes us believe in cliches like ‘ring out the old, and ring in the new,’ turning a new leaf, joy of giving and so on. It also makes us introspect and look back and gain that valuable wisdom of “hindsight.”

As I recollect the ups and downs that Mumbai chapter has witnessed, what stands out for me is the variety of subjects and earnest handling of even the most regular stories like Mumbai’s monsoon. It was also remarkable to see citizens strive for bringing change for a hyper local issue like a cement plant in the neighbourhood or larger issues of climate change and global warming.

Sometimes successful, sometimes not. But it is important to have tried, tried to be the change we wish to see. It inspires us and motivates us to do better. Here are a few stories that stayed with me and also stood for what Citizen Matters strives to do.

Urban planning and Mumbai 

Although we do several stories which have a direct or indirect link to urban planning, at the start of the year we had received a grant to produce 12 stories on various aspects of planning. That enabled us to focus our energies on stories related to redevelopment, access to facilities, such as parking and role of planning in health care. 

old mill on the backdrop of skyscrapers in central mumbai
The landscape of central Mumbai changed over the past two decades as old mills made way for high rises. Pic: MS Gopal

Bambai ki barish 

This monsoon was special because we had a completely new team and three interns brimming with ideas to write about the monsoon and the challenges it brings. We covered the newsy stories but we also looked at stories with sharp local focus about communities. Not just that, we also had an essay competition for residents of Mumbai to write about a monsoon challenge and present a solution.

child plays on a water logged road
Every year the city grapples with the same problems – floods, water logging, traffic snarls. In the past few years, climate change has led to extreme rain days with dry spells in between. Pic: Stephin Thomas

In focus

Often some issues or stories cannot be told in one go. They require deeper and wider reportage and that is when we work on multi-part series or revisit the story several times. I have picked only one of the several stories that were done on three issues – elderly in Mumbai, medical care for passengers, and most importantly, the precious green lung of Mumbai – Aarey forest.

Read more: Explainer: Why is the Coastal Regulation Zone so important for Mumbai’s well-being?

Quintessential Mumbai 

We said good bye to the old non air conditioned double decker bus and welcomed the AC double decker bus, in a span of few weeks. The double decker bus, that features in movies and stays in the memories of most Mumbaikars was an obvious story about the city. But there are more. Be it our beloved Ganpati Bappa, shared autorickshaws, and making economic opportunities for transgender community. And I haven’t even mentioned the fishing community, local trains and Sassoon Docks (which also we wrote about!).

a shop at chor bazaar mumbai
The variety of items on sale at Chor Bazaar continues to draw tourists and locals regularly. Pic: Hepzi Anthony

Read more: Historical stigma: Pardhi settlers in Mumbai struggle to shake off criminal tag

Mumbai and its women 

There are no surprises here. Women continued to bear the brunt of economic and social pressures, as they always have. At times it is about their safety, but mostly it is about discriminatory wages, jobs, work cultures. We tried to cover how it impacts women and their families, in more ways than one – health, mental health and overall well-being.

Citizen journalism 

When it comes to people’s power, there is nothing more inspiring that witnessing citizens, especially the youth, from all walks of life, who work and intervene for a better city for all. We saw so many examples of that and we tried to document some of those efforts in their own words.

I started with a feeling of doom and gloom. No, that hasn’t been miraculously cured. But there’s no denying that all these efforts of people towards making Aapli Mumbai a better city, warms our hearts and inspires us. Here’s to harnessing that hope and working for a better tomorrow. 

Wishing you a proactive, peaceful and a fulfilling new year.

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