Shiv Sena-BJP retain power in Mumbai civic polls

MUMBAI Fri Feb 17, 2012 7:00pm IST

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Hindu nationalists retained power in Mumbai on Friday, defeating the Congress party despite growing criticism of shoddy and increasingly overburdened infrastructure.

The hardline Shiv Sena party, headed by 86-year-old Bal Thackeray, has led a governing coalition for 16 years in a city as famous for its sprawling slums, clogged roads and rusting railways as for its business suits and skyscraper skyline.

"Thanks to all who supported us. Victory wasn't easy," Uddhav Thackeray, the son of the party president, told reporters. "People who trust us, we ask them to keep their trust in us."

Bal Thackeray has been criticised by Muslim groups for comments that compared them to a "cancer" and has been quoted expressing his admiration for the governing abilities of Adolf Hitler.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai controls a budget of more than 200 billion rupees, larger than the U.S. city of Philadelphia.

Many of India's largest companies, such as the $83 billion Tata Group and the $58 billion Reliance Industries, are based in the city, where the country's main stock exchange towers as a reminder of its financial crown.

But much of Mumbai's future as an economic powerhouse depends on how it is governed.

Mumbai's swollen population, which rose by 2.5 million people between 1991 and 2011, has put huge pressure on the corporation to improve jam-packed roads and amenities such as water supplies.

Around 10 people die every day on the city's 150-year-old rail network, with rush-hour trains crammed with three times the number of passengers than they were designed to carry.

The 27-km (17-mile) journey from the city's airport to the main financial district can take up to three hours on pot-holed roads.

"The lack of a collective plan for building and managing in Mumbai is a big problem that shows no signs of going away," said Kaustuv Roy, executive director of the Indian unit of global property consultants Cushman & Wakefield.

"A decade ago, any new business in India would have gone straight to Mumbai. Now people are thinking whether they could be in other cities where infrastructure is better."

Asia's seventh-richest city, Mumbai's GDP is estimated at over $210 billion, larger than that of Beijing or Barcelona. A 2010 study by global consultancy McKinsey & Co forecast GDP to overtake Hong Kong by 2030.

A sea-bridge that links the teeming suburbs to the central business district has been a success, but a long-delayed metro project and hand-wringing over new bridges and motorways have led to increased criticism of city authorities.

More than half the population live in slums, the World Bank says, and rival cities such as New Delhi and Bangalore boast far superior infrastructure that analysts say could see Mumbai knocked off its perch as India's economic and financial hub.

The coalition that includes the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party was leading in 107 of 227 seats, local media reported, when the Congress-led opposition conceded defeat.

Officials said the turnout for the municipal polls was 46 percent, in line with previous years.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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