Experts raise doubts about Mumbai’s development plan

Revised development plan for Mumbai’s development till 2034 has a bold but challenging proposal on creating affordable housing

The affordable housing plan proposes a million units of 30 sq. m, 45 sq. m, and 60 sq. m homes for low and middle income groups. Photo: Bloomberg
The affordable housing plan proposes a million units of 30 sq. m, 45 sq. m, and 60 sq. m homes for low and middle income groups. Photo: Bloomberg

Mumbai: Mumbai’s revised development plan (DP) that lays out the blueprint for the city’s development till 2034 has a bold but challenging proposal on creating affordable housing.

The idea: To create a million affordable homes in the country’s most expensive property market by freeing up land parcels currently designated as no-development zones (NDZs) and natural areas (NAs) like salt pans.

For the first time, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has earmarked 3,000 hectares of NDZ, NA, and Mumbai Port Trust (MPT) land spread across Greater Mumbai under the affordable housing and amenities policy. Of this, 750 hectares will be used for affordable housing while the rest will be kept aside for amenities and open spaces.

The affordable housing plan proposes a million units of 30 sq. m, 45 sq. m, and 60 sq. m homes for low and middle income groups.

However, a big rider here is the ownership of land: some of these land parcels are held by private owners, some by the Union commerce ministry and some by the MPT.

To achieve its target, the MCGM has proposed two major changes to the current floor space index (FSI) rules.

One, the new affordable housing projects would get a generous FSI of 4. Two, the island city—from Colaba to Bandra—would get a uniform permissible FSI of 2 (currently 1.33) as allowed in the suburbs.

FSI is the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the area of the plot upon which it is built.

An FSI of 2 for a 1,000 sq. ft plot means a built up area of 2,000 sq. ft.

The revised DP has identified 3,000 hectares of land that could be freed up for development using a 33-33-34 formula.

By this formula, an owner of a plot who comes forward for development will have to allocate and construct affordable housing on 33% or one-third of the plot and keep another 33% as public open space. The owner can retain the balance 34%.

Out of 3,000 hectares, 2,100 hectares are marked as no-development zones in the 1991 DP. Tourism development areas (TDA) account for 500 hectares, and salt pans, mostly owned by the central government’s commerce ministry, comprise 260 hectares. Mumbai Port Trust has 140 hectares.

In February, 2015, the DP was released to heavy criticism by political parties, town planners, environmentalists and city conservationists. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who holds the urban development portfolio, then asked for a revision.

The revised DP (RDP) will be put up for public scrutiny for a period of 60 days.

It will have to be passed by the MCGM general body and the Maharashtra government’s urban development ministry.

“I do not see any problem in the RDP getting passed. After all the due processes, it should be ready for implementation in about three to four months,” Ajoy Mehta, municipal commissioner, MCGM, said.

“The RDP gives a uniform permissible FSI of 2 across the city. This has been done to encourage development in the island city. Growth in the island city has stagnated while a lot of activity happened in the suburbs due to higher FSI. We need to ensure uniformity,” said Mehta.

Senior Mumbai town planner Sulakshana Mahajan, who works at the government-appointed think tank Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU), is not convinced.

“Affordable housing is impossible in Mumbai, especially the island city, unless the colossal mistake of restricting FSI to 1.33 in 1966 is rectified. The base FSI in 1966 only should have been more than 2 or at least 2 to ensure that more low and middle income group housing gets created in the island city,” Mahajan said.

She pointed out that the permissible FSI of 2 in the revised DP was an invitation to corruption as it ensures that the same political and legal apparatus that has messed up the city continues to determine the process of town planning.

“The uniform permissible FSI of 2 still leaves discretionary powers with the MCGM and retains the option of fungible FSI, which leaves the possibility of this discretionary power getting abused,” Mahajan says.

She maintains that the 2015 DP had more creative and liberal FSI initiatives such as zone-wise variable FSI—granting extra FSI in zones where the city’s future development is more likely to happen.

MCGM’s Mehta said that the RDP looks at freeing up all NDZ lands where the owners are willing to carry out development projects by allocating 66% of the land for affordable housing and public open spaces.

The central government would continue to be the final authority on salt pans. But if the government decides to free up these lands, the MCGM would want them to come under the affordable housing and amenities policy, Mehta insisted.

Mahajan said that she was not against opening up salt pan lands for affordable housing though she added that it was the last option when all other options have been exhausted.

“It is wrong to say lands are not available and that we have no option but to free up the NDZ and salt pans. If the RDP had retained the variable and rational FSI policy proposed by the 2015 DP, it could have freed up land for affordable housing,” Mahajan said.

Property analysts believe that while the intent is good, the means of achieving it may not be feasible.

“It seems to be an easy way out to create affordable housing and ignores the fact that no-development zones serve a different purpose,” said Ashutosh Limaye, national director, research at JLL India.

“Instead, concerted efforts towards redeveloping slum land would be a more feasible way of achieving this.”

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