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Mumbai’s final chance?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008 - 9:57pm IST
Sector-wise development offers the island city an opportunity to enter the 21st century

Sector-wise development offers the island city an opportunity to enter the 21st century

Historically, in India, the process of urbanisation has been  ad hoc, unplanned, awkward and incremental. Our cities have grown without any heed to the requirements of the residents and their aspirations. All talk of creating Mumbai into a world financial and trading centre is just building castles in the air. With infrastructure bursting at the seams, overloaded traffic and absence of a cohesive, visionary and integrated planning process, Mumbai could well be what Rajiv Gandhi had once called the then Calcutta — “a dying city”.

But all is not yet over. Today, Mumbai is at the crossroads — a unique opportunity or an unmitigated disaster. Can this be a defining moment in Mumbai’s history? The answer lies with us.

Mumbai is not unique. Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Birmingham, London and Chicago have gone through this transformation from ugly ducklings to efficient cities.

The key components have been administrative and political will coupled with sector-by-sector development, using practical urban planning, cutting-edge engineering knowledge and best global practices married with local skills and knowledge.

Mumbai needs an integrated and holistic planning process that engages various stakeholders in an inclusive manner and a time-bound monitored implementation plan. A  City Planning and Monitoring Company (CPMC) should be created on corporate lines to operate on a public-private partnership basis that consists of the government and semi-government bodies involved in planning and infrastructure as well as private associations. The CPMC’s purpose would be to facilitate the integrated planning of  Mumbai, without stepping on the regulatory powers of the government. The CPMC will monitor the implementation of a sector by sector development scheme.

The island city houses old inner city areas dispersed in various pockets across the 17,500 acres. These areas are characterised by over 30,000 cessed and non-cessed old and dilapidated buildings, many of which have crossed their working lives. Lives of over 25 lakh people are at stake.  The over-strained infrastructure was mostly laid before Independence. Sewage, water, electricity and gas require urgent upgradation.
Other amenities like open spaces, markets, parking lots, schools and colleges  —  need improvement also.

The state government has taken steps for sector development by initiating pilot projects in the congested parts of the Island city, which can be replicated across the rest of Mumbai. It has also drafted a modified DCR 33(9) which propagates the cluster approach for redevelopment of old and dilapidated buildings. A cluster approach allows vertical growth, releasing huge open areas for parks, gardens and amenities. The planning process would also create large parking lots, pedestrian-friendly streets and wide roads. There is also an opportunity to use world standard technology. The scale allows for sustainable development strategies to tackle storm water drainage, potable
water, solid waste management and energy conservation.

But there are several challenges ahead. Two of the most contentious issues will be the conflicting provisions of DCR 33(7) and the question of land acquisition for intransigent landlords. Various clusters of large areas of over 25 acres in the Island city house a majority of old and dilapidated buildings which must be  notified. Individual development in these notified areas should only be allowed for dangerous buildings marked by MHADA. As per our draft plan, only around 3500 acres have large clusters of old buildings. The balance  should be free for individual building’s redevelopment under DCR 33(7).

Within the notified area, landlords should be allowed to develop their buildings as per the Master Plan within stipulated timeframes. Ready Reckoner rates can be used for landlords who want to sell their development rights to the cluster developer. If landlords create obstacles, Mhada should use its discretionary acquisition powers, in a transparent and fair manner. Finally, the public good is  paramount over private benefits.
Breaking the current deadlock is necessary for this  project to take off. Policymakers, planners, activists and citizens must get together, discuss issues and find solutions. We can then learn from this experiment and replicate across the city. We hope there is the political and administrative will to take these bold steps because once highrises start getting built, they cannot be undone. Mumbai would have lost the final opportunity to recreate itself into a world class city.

The writer is chairman of the Remaking of Mumbai Federation




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