Mumbai Development Plan: Plot thickens

Much is being said and written about the draft Development Plan (DP) for Mumbai by town planning experts, architects, citizens’ groups and political parties, since it will shape and equip the city for the future.

The way this seven-island city has grown in the last three centuries is mind-boggling. From a quiet cluster of local inhabitants, it has burgeoned into one of the world’s most vibrant metropolises in the 21st century – a complex but difficult environment, yet one which holds promise.

The development plan aims not merely to provide infrastructure like roads, water and sanitation, but also to create an environment for a better and healthy coexistence of communities. It also aims to preserve heritage and provide public spaces for creating new possibilities. In the last three decades, the city has grown phenomenally, but its existence is merely an exercise in management on a day-to-day basis. The magnitude of migration and unplanned growth did not help earlier development plans. The population grew faster than the speed with which meagre resources were used for implementation of these development plans. The open spaces reserved for public utilities remain on paper due to the unchecked growth of illegal construction and law-enforcement turning a blind eye towards such development.

The haphazard manner in which the city’s skyline has changed makes it a picture of contrast. There are gated societies in which the affluent classes live, around which are the clusters of hutments which house the domestic help without which the high-rise households would find it difficult to function. The closing down of textile mills provided land for further vertical growth, while the middle class-dominated old, dilapidated buildings continue to languish in abusive neglect. There can be no piecemeal solutions like demolishing only portions of hutments and providing alternative accommodation while leaving the rest of the hutment dwellers to fend for themselves. The restructuring of such unauthorised hutments and the reconstruction of old buildings should form the main part of the development plan, along with the opening up of a new mass of land for structured and planned growth, adding to the existing infrastructure.

The authorities are flooded with petitions, objections and suggestions for the amendment to the draft development plan. The main criticism against the plan is that it takes into account concerns of the developers, while ignoring the needs and requirements of the common people. In a bid to assuage hurt sentiments, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has set up a three-member committee under the chairmanship of the chief secretary to review this draft Development Plan for Mumbai. This committee is expected to examine faulty use of existing land, controlling floor space index for better management of the city, and how to deal with gross irregularities.

This draft DP for 2014-34 is the brainchild of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which governs the city. Ultimately, it is the civic authorities who must ensure balanced and proper growth of the city and suggest ways to deal with the anomalies that have been crept in since the last development plan. Though in technical terms, the document takes into account immediate steps and the kind of regulation it wants to set in process, it lacks vision. Ultimately, it is the political leadership which must provide the input to make the development plan all-inclusive.

The BMC has proposed the concept of variable FSI, which means a plot of land can use FSI from 2.5 to 8. The plan also provides a uniform 2.5 FSI to contain and ensure proper density of population.

The Sena is also opposing the proposal to use the lush Aarey Milk Colony land as a growth and economic hub. The area was reserved as a no development zone in the 1991 Development Plan. The Congress too is criticising the development plan as favouring developers rather than common people. The heritage committee also finds itself at variance with the development plan since it would allow land users to develop certain areas which the heritage committee wants to preserve.

The Mumbai makeover has been in the works for the past decade, with so many flyovers added to the city’s traffic system with the metro and the monorail in place and several other major infrastructure projects in the pipeline. Many buildings are being demolished and redeveloped, resulting in skyscrapers. The old rule that the railway line corridor be left untouched and no skyscraper be allowed near railway stations has been given up, with the new concept that people should reach stations without depending on other modes of transport. However, there is no holistic approach. The plot-by-plot redevelopment has resulted in crowded roads, no open space and no extra civic amenities. The government must enforce cluster development to ensure a better future for the city. If a couple of buildings lining a lane or a road are demolished and developed vertically, accommodating everyone in old buildings, it will leave more open space for better living.

Unfortunately, there is no public space earmarked especially for art, recreation and public assembly in the ongoing haphazard development nor has it been included in the development plan for the next 20 years. Unless the authorities create such open spaces for art and culture, the city will become a heartless conglomeration of concrete, inhabited by robots, not humans. Mumbai needs vision and determination to ensure its growth and for its very survival.

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Free Press Journal