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Mumbai’s municipal commissioner said if we continue to keep woods or shrubs as they are, they will soon fall prey to slums and we will soon have new Dharavi. Photo: HT
Mumbai’s municipal commissioner said if we continue to keep woods or shrubs as they are, they will soon fall prey to slums and we will soon have new Dharavi. Photo: HT

In search of Mumbai’s urban utopia

Debates around new draft plans are mostly centered around higher floor space index and builder-friendliness rather than course correction

Mumbai: Don’t just shoot a dog, call it mad and then shoot it—so goes a saying. One doesn’t have to explain the rationale behind the shooting then. Similarly, if you wish to shoot down something in urban planning and development, then label it pro-builder—because the builder community across India has earned a notoriety for skulduggery, you don’t have to do explain your action.

Something similar is happening with the draft development plan (DP) for Mumbai for 2034 published by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) around three weeks ago.

Much of the debate is only centered around the higher floor space index (FSI) proposed in the new DP and how it is builder-friendly without an examination of what mistakes were made in the last DP, which came into force in 1991, how it affected the city and what needs to be done to correct the harm the last plan caused.

FSI indicates the permissible construction on any plot. For example, if the permissible FSI is 1, then one can construct a structure of 1,000 sq.ft. on 1,000 sq.ft. plot.

The 1991 development plan restricted basic FSI at 1.33 in the island city (the area between Colaba and Nariman Point in the south and Mahim and Sion in the north) and to 1 in the suburbs. The 1991 DP on which work began in the mid-1980s assumed that the city’s population will reach 9.87 million by 2000. That threshold was reached in the very same year in which plan came into force.

The new DP proposes to increase the basic FSI up to 2.5 across the city without making any distinction between the city and its suburbs. However, at the same time it proposes to include areas for staircase, lifts, flower beds and the balcony, among others, in the FSI, except the area for earmarked for parking.

Currently due to all these exceptions to FSI and loading of transferable development rights (TDR), the actual consumption of FSI in the suburbs on an average is 3.5 and 4 in the city. The TDRs are issued to owners of land acquired by the municipal corporation for public amenities. These rights can be sold in the market by the owner and used by builders and developers at a construction site developed by them.

These exemptions gives a distinct advantage to those who have inside knowledge of the system; by removing the exemption-based system, the new DP is trying to bring transparency in the building approval process, followed by the MCGM and also creates a level playing field for all players—old, new, small, medium or big.

Much of the criticism is also directed at the additional FSI the new DP proposes over the basic FSI of 2.5. The new DP proposes granting of FSI from 3.5 to 8 for various areas of the city. Critics of the policy raised an outcry about what will happen to a Mumbai that is already gasping for breath. They said there will be no space to walk on Mumbai’s roads and traffic will be chock-a-block and that there will be no water to drink; these conditions exist in much of Mumbai already.

Out of 13,991 hectares (ha) of land available for development only on 0.5% of area having an FSI of 8 been proposed and that too only at two locations: Dadar in south central Mumbai and Andheri, a western suburb, as both are major transit points. The new DP tries to promote a concept of transit- oriented development (TOD) or development of near-transit nodes.

The new DP proposes nearly 58.5% of area to be under the maximum FSI limit of 3.5. And as it was pointed out earlier, development in the city is even now taking place at an FSI of 4 and in the suburbs at 3.5.

And developers will have to buy this extra FSI from the MCGM at a premium, which is linked to ready reckoner rates that will help the corporation to raise funds required for building additional infrastructure. The government publishes detailed area-wise rates at the beginning of every calendar year and this document is called ready reckoner and it is used to levy the stamp duty on property transactions.

Another major area of criticism against development plan has been the opening up of the Aarey Milk Colony in the western suburb of Goregaon for development. The colony, which is spread over 1,000 hectares, houses cattle stables, a milk plant, quarters for staff of the state government’s dairy development department, picnic points, a base for a paramilitary force called Force One, among others. However, nearly 84% of area is covered by shrubs or woods. And residents hardly have any access to this greenery.

The world over experience has been that the open areas accessed by public regularly get protected and the rest fall prey to encroachments; even a cursory glance at Google Maps shows how slums have started encroaching on Aarey Milk Colony.

To rectify this situation, the new DP proposes access to people to these areas with various transportation facilities such as a terminus for line III of Mumbai Metro, a bus depot, using land for various road projects and also developing a park on the lines of Hyde Park of London or Central Park of New York. It also proposes using some land for educational institutes and research facilities such as an Indian Institute of Technology or Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

And as Mumbai’s municipal commissioner, Sitaram Kunte, pointed out during a public interaction last week, if we continue to keep these woods or shrubs as they are, they will soon fall prey to slums and we will soon have new Dharavi.

Dharavi is reputed to be Asia’s largest slum, spread over 535 ha. in north-central Mumbai.

As Mumbaikars, the choice is ours—in search of an urban utopia, do we want to give up what we can protect and make Mumbai more livable.

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