April 24, 2016

Mumbai Draft Development Plan: Authorities Surrender before Real Estate Sharks

Sudhir Paranjape

THE abject failure of the authorities in finding a planned solution to the massive and aggravating problems of Mumbai and its citizens was highlighted in a programme to discuss the Draft Development Plan for Mumbai for 2015-2034. The programme was organised on February 7 by the School of Social Sciences, in collaboration with the University of Mumbai’s Department of Civics and Politics. The School of Social Sciences, earlier known as Indian School of Social Sciences, Mumbai, was reconstituted and registered recently. This was the first programme organised after its reconstitution. Eminent personalities from the fields of governance, technology, architecture and academics took part in the event.

The Draft Plan, which is a part of the exercise that ought to have been undertaken at the conclusion of the previous document, viz. 2012, began only in 2014. And it could not be completed within its scheduled time frame and was given several extensions. Although after the last (and presumably final) extension, it ought to have been published on April 1, it has still not been released.

In the meantime, the city of Mumbai has been witnessing one crisis after another. To list a few: Confrontations between hawkers and those who want to keep them out of their neighbourhoods; a huge fire that smouldered first in one of the city’s garbage dumps and then re-erupted there as well as in another dump causing innumerable problems for the fire fighters and citizens alike; traffic jams which are a routine feature of every major Indian city, making life tormenting for those who commute daily for their livelihoods; the housing shortage is the most conspicuous of all with ever more working people being pushed well beyond even the outermost suburbs, in areas devoid of basic amenities, whereas Mumbai’s landscape is littered with huge towers that are incomplete and empty!

Amid all these there is a blatant attempt to gobble up every available square metre of open space and green areas, including mangroves in the creeks and bays, and gift them to the builders’ lobby. The ineptness of the authorities in finding solutions and jettisoning of planning was brought out poignantly by the panel of distinguished speakers: Gautam Chatterjee, Additional Chief Secretary, Home (Transport), Government of Maharashtra; Kapil Gupta, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Powai; Tapati Mukhopadhyay, UGC Professor Emeritus (Geography); and Hussein Indorewala and Shweta Wagh, Assistant Professors at Kamala Raheja Institute of Architecture. The programme was conducted by Sudha Mohan, Professor and Head of the Department of Civics and Politics and Sudhir Paranjape, Secretary, School of Social Sciences, and was attended by over 150 students, teachers, trade unionists and those with a keen interest in the city’s welfare.

IAS officer Gautam Chatterjee brought to bear his vast administrative and planning experience to give a bird’s eye view of the humongous draft and laid bare the glaring defects in the methodology adopted this time around by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). He also dwelt on the conflicts between BMC and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) over the formulation of the plan document. He, along with the other speakers, roundly criticised the largesse to the builders’ lobby by way of excessively high floor space index (FSI).

Kapil Gupta showed with concrete slides and illustrations examples of planning and resources’ utilisation techniques used in various countries and lamented that the authorities here had no desire for use of simple cost effective measures for forecasting natural disasters, such as the massive flooding recently experienced in Chennai and also a decade ago in Mumbai. Prof. Indorewala analysed the lacunae in the draft and its particular neglect of the underclass, while gifting dollops of FSI and foraging on essential vacant spaces surrounding buildings and tenements, etc.

Surrender before Real Estate Sharks

Tapati Mukhopadhyay, who is general secretary of the Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisations and has done pioneering work in urban geography of Mumbai, traced the evolution of the draft plans since the first one formulated in 1971. It covered the span of two decades, and was followed up with the Plan Document for 1992. So logically, the ensuing exercise ought to have been undertaken latest by 2012 immediately following the Census of 2011, but it was inordinately delayed.

Three crucial features which mark a departure from the previous two documents as well as their philosophy, as underscored by Mukhopadhyay, are (a) The continuous shrinkage of “area under natural cover” within the Mumbai Metropolitan region encompassing forest, lakes, open spaces, marshy areas, saltpans and some other small components from 55 per cent of the total in 1971 to 37 per cent in 2011 and further down to 34 per cent in 2012, the notional commencement year of the present draft plan; (b) The concept of FSI = total covered area of all floors/plot area or Floor Space Index, which was introduced in 1991 with a view to expand construction activity in affordable housing, is now sought to be changed for large scale commercial real estate activity and that too by encroachment upon the natural cover; and (c) Transfer of Development Rights or TDR usage altered to make possible even larger FSI.

“This decision of the government to change the structure of FSI is mainly to facilitate the market to operate in the land sector. This will further facilitate the foreign capital to enter and operate in Mumbai’s land market,” she said. From the earlier FSI regime of 1 or 1.33, the new scheme envisages as follows: “The development plan 2034 adopts variable FSI ranges. Five ranges of proposed bulk FSI and the net plot area under them are presented in the section. Considering this, the existing FSI consumed majority land area i.e., 58.12 per cent is proposed to be under the FSI of 3.15 per cent. Higher FSI of 5.0 and above is only provided in areas well accessed by public transport mainly in areas in proximity to railway station and the existing and upcoming metro station. Thus, 31.87 per cent of the city is proposed to be under FSI 5.0. Finally, FSI of 6.5 and 8.0 has been provided in the immediate vicinity of major railway station in proximity to central business district (CBD) and other employment node. 4.55 per cent of the city is under an FSI of 6.5. Less than 0.5 per cent of the net plot area is allocated an FSI of 8.0.”

The realisation of this scenario will result in an enormous vertical expansion of the city, putting extraordinary pressure on the already stretched resources such as water, sanitation and roads, and will also portend a security hazard.

Mukhopadhyay then highlighted the other concerns relating to natural disasters that Mumbai is prone to -- the issue of urban environment. “Mumbai faces several natural hazards such as earthquake, flood, landslides, etc. The city is located in Seismic Zone III, which is known as seismically active zone. Thus, the possibility of inter-plate earthquake cannot be ruled out. It is to be noted that by far the most common hazard that the city of Mumbai faces is of the urban flood, arising due to heavy rainfall during monsoon. The old island city is mostly the reclaimed area; the central part is shallow like a basin, coastal area used to be relatively higher. Hence, during monsoon, in the event of high rainfall with tidal upsurge, excess water cannot get out of the land area, and instead accumulates. There are several points within the city where water accumulation has become a recurring phenomenon. There are 53 drainage districts in the old island city many of which are in such a dilapidated condition that they cannot carry more than 25 mm water per hour, which is extremely inadequate.”

Summing up, she said, “Development Plan 2015-34 has suggested for polycentric growth. The idea is confusing. DP has identified three centres like old city centre, Central Mumbai, and Andheri, Versova area. There are several other micro nodes, which are linked with that centre. Already high FSI is allotted in this area. All these centres are already developed and congested, due to intermixing of function. New centres cannot be superimposed on those areas. In addition, there are many contradictory and conflicting points with earlier DP 1991. The policy about the open space has to be consistent with the earlier model of 1991. The Aarey stretch that used to house milk production as well as stables, also known as the lung of Mumbai, was in the earlier plan declared as ‘no development’ area. In the present Development Plan, it is converted into ‘undeveloped area’. This has been done only to satisfy the market forces and it shows that there is a continuous attempt to encroach upon the natural, open area.” (END)