Vibrant business centre of India

By B.K. SIDHU in Mumbai, india

MUMBAI is often described as a city with a pulse; it is colourful and rich in culture. 

This has to do with the population of over 14 million from diverse races and religions who make Mumbai their home; its architecture incorporating a mix of florid Gothic styles where the older administration and commercial buildings intermingle with modern skyscrapers; its status as India's financial and commercial centre with many multinationals operating from; and its two stock exchanges where 70% of India's equities are traded. 

Mumbai is also home to India's movie land or Bollywood, where over 300 of the 1,000 movies made by India are produced. 

A drive through the city will show its vibrancy – everyone is doing something and certainly there's no evidence that less than a month ago it was rocked by two bombs.  

That episode may have shocked some multinationals but Mumbaikars returned to work the very next day. In fact, statistics show that over the past 10 years, this city had been hit with explosions and bombs more than 10 times. 

Deliveries on bicycles the quickest way around in Mumbai streets.

Yet foreign direct investments flow into Maharastra, where Mumbai is located. Over the past 13 years, it has attracted over US$13bil worth of foreign direct investments for 3,000 projects, its chief minister Sushil Kumar Shendiji said. 

Shendiji was inviting more foreign participation during his speech at the second India-Asean Business Summit, held in Mumbai on Sept 6. 

Projects up for grabs include the US$15.22mil Science City Centre in New Mumbai; a mass rapid transit system to be developed along Andheri-Ghatkopar Corridor in Mumbai; water and sewerage projects for Mumbai and neighbouring towns; a western freeway sea link from Worli to Nariman Point; the Mumbai-Trans Harbour Sea Link Project; and cargo hub at Nagpur. 

Also in the pipeline is the development of a transport plaza; a hill station; an exhibition and convention centre; the modernisation of Vijaydurg port in Sindhudurg district for US$100mil; development of a minor port at Alewadi in Thane District for US$140mil; and Redi port in Sindhudurg district for US$120mil. 

But of late Mumbai has shaped into an outsourcing centre to meet the needs of several global banks and multinationals. The city’s airport and ports handle about 40% of the country's exports. It contributes 5% to the GDP, and its major exports include gems and jewellery, chemicals, ready-made garments, and fruits and vegetables. 

Mumbai is also one city in India which suffers the least power cuts although it is “bursting off its seams with people.” 

With its sizeable population, it has the largest slums in Asia. This is so since “Mumbai is seen as a magnet to many abjectly poor rural Indians; thus the reason why many migrants migrate to this rich state.” 

Their homes are on pavements since space is a real problem. Of late, the government has initiated programs to relocate them into flats but such an initiative will take several years given the sheer size of the slums. And if you are driving through the city you won’t catch a glimpse of your favourite Hindi movie idol. But what you will see is the many billboards with the latest movie releases. 

Indian policemen - the colours of Mumbai.

The entertainment industry is worth US$100mil, said Yash Chopra, a movie producer who has several box office hits to his name. But Bollywood also has to battle the menace of the Mumbai underworld. 

For some time now Indian movie producers have opted for Europe, in particular Switzerland, to shoot their song and dance sequences. Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu did not mince his words when he said that Indian producers can shoot a Hindi film in Malaysia for a fraction of what they would pay in Switzerland.” 

However, Chopra felt Malaysia should invite several producers to see what the country had to offer in terms of location. 

“The government (of Malaysia) can help in terms of incentives for the use of infrastructure if we are to shoot our movies there,” he said. 

Critics say that although Mumbai is thriving, the city's once dominant position as the ad capital for the country has been slipping with New Delhi clocking higher growth rates over the last decade. Cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad are becoming software hubs and challenging Mumbai's position as India's only global city. 

They say Mumbai's problem is its high real estate costs, congestion and pollution and that Bollywood, an industry that does not necessarily have to be in Mumbai, continues to be harassed by the underworld. 

Real estate prices are highest in South Mumbai. Prices for residential space can range between 7,000 and 14,000 rupees per sq ft in the Colaba and Nariman Point, whereas in New Mumbai and central suburbs it is only 700 to 5,000 rupees psf. 

The issue now is whether “Mumbai reinvest itself”. Critics say one way would be to have a dedicated Minister for Mumbia, akin to a CEO who could make a difference to the city. 

Whatever the reasons, some Asean delegates attending the summit after two sessions in New Delhi certainly are of the view that Mumbai is a “happening place” (more so for its night life). 

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