The gaping holes in the grand Plan

  • Smruti Koppikar
  • Updated: Feb 24, 2015 22:11 IST

It is hard to peruse Mumbai's proposed Development Plan 2014-34 and not wonder at the short-sightedness of those responsible for it. The bulk of critical responses to the DP have focussed on the increased Floor Space Index which will lead to higher densities in an over-crowded city and the short shrift given to open spaces. There are at least two other aspects that are downright appalling.

The first is about slums. The DP pretends that slums – and by extension, slum-dwellers – are not a big slice of Mumbai’s reality and planning does not have to include them. To leave this section out of the grand plan and suggest that local area plans can do the job is to aggravate the existing mess that slum settlements are.

The Census 2011 showed that 43% of Mumbaiites were slum-dwellers. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which charted out the DP, has its own detailed data sets and maps of slums across each of the 24 wards including wards with the highest slum populations. There are independent studies as well as those by international lending institutions such as the World Bank.

Yet the DP reads as if slums were a figment of our imagination. There is hardly any reference to improving their physical and social infrastructure, let alone a road-map to transform them into sustainable low-cost housing. To not plan for nearly 5.5 million people in a long-term plan such as the DP is to write the script for deepening urban inequality and strife, with enhanced roles for the land and water mafia among other thugs.

Slums are not only terrible housing enclaves, they are also economic centres. The DP has basically overlooked the informal economy of the city. This too will boom when Mumbai becomes the grand international city that is planned for. Mumbai’s chances of transforming itself into a world-class city hinge not only on increased FSI but equally on the quality of life it offers for all citizens. The Human Development Index, according to BMC data, is the lowest for those civic wards which have the highest slum populations: L, S, M-East. The DP also does not take into account one of the Prime Minister’s grand projects: Housing for All.

The second disheartening aspect is the BMC’s cynical handling of inputs that it sought from a wide range of people over the last year or so at structured workshops and interactions. A range of Mumbaiites attended these and offered suggestions and detailed presentations. It led many to believe that the civic body was finally acknowledging modern planning processes instead of relying on unelected officials to put down a plan. Environmentalists, housing activists, gender activists and informal educationists were among those who happily shared their ideas with the BMC.

The DP does not read as if these were taken seriously at all. The BMC has paid mere lip service to the concept of participatory planning. It went through the motions of consulting people but did not, ultimately, go beyond the archaic planning process in which unelected officials and lobbyists determine what goes by way of plans. That the DP does not reflect people’s suggestions is a shame. It is also a lost opportunity to broad-base planning and makes it responsive to those that the DP is meant to serve. The DP will be opened for public reactions next month. What is the point being made?

Municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, as urban development department head, should perhaps do some “thinking” without taking sabbaticals.

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