Whose 'development' is the Development Plan for?

Mumbai’s draft development plan (DP) for the next 20 years has created a storm. The philosophy adopted by the planners, to cater to the growing population of the metro, has evoked mixed views. This is exactly the opposite of an earlier plan, which primarily aimed at restricting the city’s population to 75 lakh.

The opinions coming in from various quarters have perplexed the city’s ordinary citizens, who only expect planners to get them affordable homes, open spaces, amenities like health care, education, recreation and public transport. No government or civic official or public representative has come up with a satisfying answer as yet, even as the people who have applied their minds to the proposal have started submitting suggestions and objections before it is sent for BMC’s approval, and then to the state government for final nod.

Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte, who helmed the draft, has said that the DP would make available more affordable housing stock, commercial spaces and jobs. He said the plan would release more land and offer more floor space index (FSI) for development. This means the city will have more towers. According to Kunte, the demand for extra FSI was long pending. While explaining a proposal to develop certain parts of city’s lungs like Aarey, Kunte recently courted controversy when he said that he did not wish Aarey to get converted into yet another Dharavi. Infuriated Dharavi residents retaliated saying that the entire Dharavi was not built in violation of Development Control Rules (DCR).

Experts have countered the draft mainly over the issue of creating affordable housing by way of more FSI. The Maharashtra Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a governing body of the state’s chambers of commerce, business and industrial associations, has disputed this theory of more FSI. While asking its members to submit suggestions and objections to the BMC, it has said that case studies undertaken in the recent past, and also experiences of the past which are well understood and documented in Mumbai, do not prove that extra FSI created more affordable housing. It said that the existing DC rules like 33(7) have already helped builders get FSI of 7, 8 and 10, and yet most in the city cannot afford housing stock created by private developers. “The writing on the wall is bold and clear. Increase in FSI in Mumbai does not make housing more affordable,” said MEDC.

A proposal to release 16,961 acres of land (currently labelled no development zone or NDZ, which are mainly eco-sensitive zones) in Wadala, Mahul, Madh, Marve, Charkop, Gorai, Dahisar, neighbouring parts of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Dindoshi, Vikhroli, Nahur, Mankhurd and Bhandup has created a furore. The land will be opened up to the real estate market and, if sold, will shrink the city’s no-development area to 28,223 acres from the existing 45,184 acres. Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), an expert agency, has made the calculations. Pankaj Joshi, UDRI’s executive director, has said that the planners did not apply a social perspective and thought of the necessity of creating affordable housing while proposing to release NDZ land. According to him, this land will further create a concrete jungle of 128 crore square feet.

While parties that will develop ‘released’ land are expected to reap rich harvests, their counterparts who want to redevelop old structures, mainly in island city, expect to make financial losses. According to the Property Redevelopment Association of Mumbai, the DP proposal, if approved, would hamper redevelopment of dilapidated buildings.

Other than experts and interested parties, major political parties have been expressing themselves in the ongoing Budget Session of the state legislature. BMC’s ruling party, the Shiv Sena, does not approve of the DP on various counts. The BJP, which is mainstay of the state government, has assured it will amend the DP whenever it comes to Mantralaya for final approval. But before any such clearance happens, city BJP president Ashish Shelar has demanded the verification of the authenticity of the private agency which prepared the plan.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is expected to make a statement on the issue today. We expect him to decode the DP mystery for the utterly confused and clueless ordinary Mumbaikar.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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