Mumbai: Urban renewal needs a holistic approach

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, March 14, 2022, 09:02 AM IST
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Hearing a Suo Motu PIL on house crashes recently, the HC came down like a ton of bricks on the BMC, saying that civic officials must be held accountable for house crashes and face criminal action. However, not all house crashes blames can be laid at their door. Sometimes, the reason for house crashes is a lacuna in the law or a bad law itself. One such lacuna was sought to be filled last week by a proposed amendment to the Unified Development Control and Promotion Regulation. This amendment extends the provisions under DCR 33(7), which are presently available to residents of old and dilapidated buildings, to those buildings which have been reconstructed by MHADA over the years, and also to those buildings which have been built by BMC for housing tenants and which have completed 30 years and are reaching the end of their lifespan.

Now, anything to do with redevelopment and MHADA is seen with great suspicion, given tragedies such as Patra Chawl. However, this is a different case. It is about 388 chawls in the Parel-Worli area which were redeveloped by MHADA 30 years ago but had deteriorated over the years to the point where they have become creaky. And these are no exceptions; the Manora MLA hostel at Nariman Point started falling apart in 30 years and has been razed for reconstruction. Of course, lack of maintenance does play a part in the deterioration of RCC structures, but they are not as long-lasting as thought to be. Concrete, by itself, can last centuries but concrete embedded with steel, strong as it is, is nowhere as durable. Steel is made mainly of iron, and one of iron’s unalterable properties is that it rusts. This ruins the durability of concrete structures in ways that are difficult to detect and costly to repair.

Coming back to these 388 buildings, there was no law under which they could be redeveloped. Their status as MHADA-owned properties and a cap on FSI made them unattractive for private developers. And MHADA has its hands full. In effect, thousands of families were condemned to living in vertical slums which could come down crashing anytime like a pack of cards. Seen in this light, the amendment, which went unnoticed, is a step towards urban renewal in a space-starved city with huge housing inequities. It also is a solution to the human rights issue as the residents of these buildings have a right to live with dignity. However, it is still a piecemeal solution to urban renewal which needs a holistic approach. One must also ask if the government must always be at the mercy of private builders.

The amendment under consideration awards an FSI of 3, plus an incentive FSI, whichever is higher, to raze and redevelop these 388 buildings and provide the old tenants with 300 sq ft. flats on the same plot. Although, the ownership of the building remains with MHADA. The case also raises a question; shouldn’t authorities fix a lifespan for these buildings at the outset and take responsibility for their redevelopment? Failure to do this would make them seem like "pawns’’ at the hands of vested interests as the HC observed in the Suo Motu PIL. Perhaps, one can take the example of Japan, which has fixed a lifespan of 30 years for the pre-fabricated homes that came up in the post-war housing boom. Homes built in the 70s and 80s had not only finished their lifespan, the needs of the Japanese families occupying them changed, and new elements like security, parking, aesthetics, etc. were considered while rebuilding the new homes. This is the case with thousands of buildings constructed by MHADA and CIDCO in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, not to speak of the lakhs put up by shady private builders in the distant suburbs.

With the roadblocks cleared to facilitate redevelopment of non-cessed buildings in the island city, the Urban Development Department could be looking at a new opportunity to bring about social and economic inclusivity in the island city. For instance, the planning authorities and the government of the day were accused of turning the mill lands of Mumbai into an exclusive zone for the rich with swank high-rises and malls replacing the mills and old chawls. With the realty rates in this urban core stretching beyond imagination, the `Marathi Manoos’ has been pushed out from his home to the far-off suburbs.

The new Regulation 33 (24) to the DCPR could help stop the migration of the `Marathi Manoos’ and bring inclusivity at the local level if the law mandates that the sale component has a quota for the LIG, MIG, HIG, and EWS. It is a perfectly doable and commercially viable option as most houses sold in recent times are the smaller flats. Moreover, providing relatively affordable homes ensures that development benefits are equally shared by all sections of society.

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