It has been more than 35 contentious years of discussion, official assurances, plans, committees and reports; of activist organisations, accusations and controversies. Yet Mumbai’s last big hope, the redevelopment of the city’s eastern seafront, seems nowhere close to kicking off, much less to fruition.
Hopes rose in 2014 when Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping, announced, “We are not going to give any of Mumbai Port Trust’s land parcel to private builders for development, we will do it ourselves.” He also commissioned a comprehensive report by a committee headed by former Port Trust Chairperson Rani Jadhav. More optimism sprung when it was learnt that the Committee had set aside 30 per cent of the app 1,000 acres available for open spaces.
But the report, acknowledged by most as an excellent one, has not been released (though it is available online). Instead there is talk of fanciful projects such as a Mumbai Eye (on the lines of the London Eye) or a tower to compete with Dubai’s BurjKhalifa. And the mood has turned cloudy again. The one silver lining has been the appointment of Sanjay Bhatia as Chairman of the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT). Bhatia comes with an impressive track record in CIDCO and there is much expected of him.
As the city waits for action on the ground, we asked some key players and observers: Has any real progress been made in this vastly complicated matter? What are the big ideas you’d like to see? What are the challenges that face us? And how hopeful are you that
Only vested interests can hold us back
Meera Sanyal, Chairperson of the IMC Urban Development Committee and founder-member of APLI Mumbai, “a port lands initiative by citizens to re-imagine Mumbai”
The redevelopment of the port lands was the core of my agenda when I stood for election in 2009 and 2014and the PortLands campaign was first hash tagged by me. So I take credit for bringing the port lands issue on to the political stage.
In my view we have made a tremendous amount of progress – Nitin Gadkari has picked up the issue and announced the redevelopment. The Rani Jadhav Committee report is a big move forward and it must be officially released in the public domain so that it cannot be subverted. It was we who filed an RTI query in December 2014 to get a copy of the report and we who put it up online.
What I’d most like to see in the redevelopment are:
* A promenade on the Eastern waterfront
* An eco- and cultural park at Sewri
* More funds for the Sassoon docks so that the fisher folk can work in better conditions
* An incubation hub for entrepreneurs
* A new University
* More sports facilities
* A cruise terminal that will create hundreds of jobs
* Stopping the coal-dumping and ship-breaking in the port lands
* A Passenger Water Transport system that would cost only Rs 280 crore
APLI Mumbai has presented 12-neighbourhood plan which won’t cost the earth and could be implemented in two to three years. We are working with the MbPT to make things happen and they are taking us very seriously. With Sanjay Bhatia, a person of integrity and competence, at the helm of the MbPT, we can hope to move forward in a constructive manner.
Only vested interests can hold us back, so we citizens need to unite to demand public infrastructure and open spaces. Otherwise the politicians and builders will parcel out the land between themselves.
Docklands shouldn’t go the way of mill lands
Darryl D’Monte, Chairperson of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India and author of Mills for Sale: The Way Ahead, an indictment of the mill lands’ sell-out to builders
The progress we’ve made is, in one word, zilch. The Rani Jadhav Committee, for instance, has not even been made public by the government, though it is available online. What kind of joke is that?
What Mumbai desperately needs are open spaces, open spaces and open spaces. The city has only 1.2 sq metres per person, the lowest of any megacity in the world. In comparison, London has 31.68 sq m per person and New York, 26.4 sq m per person.
With Nitin Gadkari being pro-builder, we will have to fight for those open spaces, fight the builder lobby and fight the lethargy of public institutions. We have to make sure the docklands don’t go the way of the mill lands, which were supposed to set aside one-third of their area for open spaces but ended up giving the city very little of them.
Rehousing the dockworkers is also going to be a big challenge. So I’m not very hopeful right now.
Don’t wait for the grand plan; develop small parcels
Sulakshana Mahajan, architect, urban planner and consultant with the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, a state government think tank
The Rani Jadhav Committee report was one of the major steps forward in the dockland redevelopment plan and I was happy to be associated with it. Our approach was pragmatic and implementable and we tried not to hurt the people who have been living in these areas for decades.
But the report not been officially released and the government has not even indicated which parts of the report they have accepted. I guess the report did not satisfy Nitin Gadkari’s liking for flashy, pretentious buildings and projects.
I believe that rather than wait for the grand plan, we could develop parcels as small as five acres and integrate them later with the larger plan.
For instance, the area near the Cotton Green station (app 30 to 40 acres) is free of encroachments and encumbrances, the soil is not toxic, and it has some beautiful heritage buildings like the one used by the Cotton Green Merchants Association. This area could certainly be developed for mixed use.
However, a great deal of environmental pollution has taken place in the dock areas. Chemicals released in ship-breaking operations have percolated into the soil and it could be dangerous if such land is used for recreational purposes. We have to make sure that the soil is safe.
Meanwhile, the management challenge is: how do you negotiate with slum-dwellers and tenants (many of whom have nothing to do with shipping) in creating a humane package for them? You need a pragmatic policy here, not SRA housing. The MbPT’s hands should be freed and they should be allowed to handle the redevelopment with some profits going to the Central government.
With Sanjay Bhatia being made Chairperson of the MbPT, I am 40 per cent optimistic that the project will take off. What comes about may not be entirely to my liking but we would have made some progress at least.
Few citizens have visited the port lands
Vice-Admiral I C Rao (retd), President, APLI Mumbai
APLI Mumbai took up the port lands issues in 2014 and has worked to create awareness of its potential by involving citizens. We got urban planners, architects and professionals to create designs for 12 neighbourhoods which were displayed at Kala Ghoda. We presented proposals to the Rani Jadhav Committee which have been incorporated in their report in large measure. We organised two conferences on the port lands with the IMC and the second report, released in June 2016, brings into the public domain for the first time, the views of the MbPT.
Meera Sanyal and I filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court in September 2014 to stop handling coal inside the city at Hajee Bunder and Reay Road. When the authorities delayed implementation of the Court’s orders, we filed a second PIL in Oct 2015 which compelled the MPCB and the MbPT to stop handling coal permanently.
Unfortunately, very few citizens have seen or visited the port lands; they should become aware that 1,000 acres of land not required by the port for operational purposes are, in truth, held in trust for the city of Mumbai and should be redeveloped for creating open spaces, public amenities and institutions for the public. The MCGM, Indian Railways, MMRDA and State Government need to support the project.
The newly appointed Chairman of the MbPT, Sanjay Bhatia, is aware of citizens’ aspirations for the port lands and is committed publicly to strive to meet these aspirations, with the active support and direction of the Ministry of Shipping. These are the best safeguards against real estate developers and vested interests creating a charge on the port lands.
However, the difficulties of the MbPT in overcoming legal issues and the time taken to assemble viable parcels of land for redevelopment are causing delays which could derail there development process.
This government sees tenants as encroachers, not stakeholders
Milind Deora, former Minister of State for Shipping and former MP, South Mumbai
In 2008, when I was Minister of State for Shipping, I had raised the issue of the Port Trust land and called for its redevelopment to decongest the city and move operations to the JNPT. A committee for that purpose was to be formed by the Chief Secretary, Maharashtra because I wanted to ensure that the redevelopment didn’t happen in isolation, without involving the people who lived in the Port Trust area, their unions and the Maharashtra government. We tried to create an Estate Policy which, in effect, gave the rights back to tenants so as to reduce litigation.
Unfortunately, this government has taken all our work and thrown it into the trashcan. They see tenants as encroachers, not stakeholders. In a 2004 court order, there were some forcible evictions, some tenants were given notice and many of them are feeling threatened. It is a clear departure from our strategy which was to reduce litigation, cut our losses and get on with the work.
There is no right or wrong way to deal with the tenants. We have to find a way to reduce litigation – or this project, like so many others in India, will get stuck on this issue. No one will gain anything; it will be a lose-lose strategy.
I believe the current government and NGOs are putting the cart before the horse. This is how good things can look, they say. But if we can’t make it happen, it will remain a promise on paper, like so many other promises. It’s not rocket science to figure out what to do with the land once it’s freed up. What needs to be first figured out is: how can we free up land, acquire it and make it contiguous?
The city desperately needs open spaces. We need to create a large contiguous public space – like New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park – that has excellent public amenities and gardens.
It is a good thing that successive governments want to take up the redevelopment of the port lands; there is continuity of interest. But it is not enough to make statements; you have to make things happen.
The Rani Jadhav Committee was a good step in the right direction and I am hopeful of this project taking off, but only if this government corrects course. There’s no reason why it can’t happen – provided egos can be set aside.