City planners suffer from the infirmity of imagining that the megapolis can grow into a global city by 2052, writes Residents think only about Greater Mumbai, the city proper, with 12.4 million people living in a peninsula comprising some 480 sq km. But increasingly, they will have to take into account the larger metropolitan region, which comprises 4,355 sq km and incorporates large outlying townships like Thane and Kalyan, cities in their own right.
While the population of Greater Mumbai is decelerating — having increased by only 5 lakh between 2001 and 2011 — that of the region has grown faster. It is some 20 million today, but estimated to touch 44 million in 2052, the largest conurbation in the world, surpassing Mexico City and Tokyo.
Even conceding that these figures depend on how exactly the footprint of any city is calculated — Bangalore and Hyderabad regions are larger than Mumbai's — size does matter. The shape that Mumbai takes in the next few decades is of crucial importance to the country. A 40-year concept plan titled 'Vision Mumbai' builds on a 2003 study by McKinsey commissioned by Mumbai First, the corporate think-tank.
Two years later, the state government set up the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit to carry the process forward. The plan was revisited by Singapore consultants Surbana in 2011 and has been adopted by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). Consultants Deloitte India have contributed some economic analysis.
This plan, like its antecedents, suffers from the infirmity of imagining that Mumbai can grow into a 'world-class' city by 2032 and into a global city by 2052.
Indeed, it has a map depicting Mumbai as an emerging global city, the only one in South Asia; its closest peers are Singapore and Dubai. Going by the classical definition of a global city, a la the US sociologist Saskia Sassen in her 1991 eponymous book, the only exemplars were New York, London and Tokyo.
The primary criterion for achieving this status is becoming a financial centre like Singapore, Dubai or Hong Kong.
Despite Mumbai being the financial capital of the country — it has ceded its status as the industrial capital due to the all-pervading closure of mills, engineering, petro-chemical and other industries — it cannot imitate any of these three Asian cities in this respect.
They are all city-states or enclaves, while Mumbai is the capital of a major state.
Although it is largely hemmed in by the sea like the three cities, it is connected, however perfunctorily at present, to the mainland. Eastern Maharashtra suffers from chronic underdevelopment, leading to an epidemic of farmers' suicides and the emergence of Maoist insurrection.
Vision Mumbai envisages the further development of the southernmost tip of the island city as a 'distinctive' global financial centre, encompassing the redevelopment of the Fort central business district, with some reclamation at Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point, for which Dutch consultants and the National Institute of Oceanography are conducting studies.
The document appears to have deviated from the controversial 'R' word — reclamation of entire new islands, as Surbana had advocated.
This was an island as a new central business district south of the island city, in addition to two others in the Thane creek. Since there has been fierce opposition to any further large-scale reclamation, this seems to have been dropped or shelved. It still takes a cue from Singapore in envisaging the Mahim bay as a fresh-water reservoir.
Even without claiming a new district from the sea, the expansion of the old business district will compound Mumbai's development problems. At a time when the city's growth is being redirected to new centres like Parel-Lalbaug, Bandra-Kurla and Andheri, the reassertion of south Mumbai will bedevil the transport axis by requiring commuters to travel southwards every day.
Vision Mumbai envisages an FSI or floor-space index — the ratio of buildable space in relation to the plot area — of between eight and 15 in the downtown district as against a present FSI of 1.33.
In any case, high-rise development will only permit higher-paid jobs in finance and related sectors, whereas Mumbai needs to provide mass employment since three out of four earners are engaged in the "informal” sector without a regular job.
Vision Mumbai was detailed at a recent meet on 'Mumbai as a Mega city' called by Mumbai First and the state government with the active involvement of the European Union.
The MMRDA mentioned that the concept plan was being dovetailed into the Development Plan, 2014-2034, which is belatedly being thrown open for public consultation. Work on the previous plan began in 1977. It was completed in 1983, after which public comments were sought.
The state government gave it its imprimatur only in 1991, by which time all estimates were hopelessly out of date. The urbs prima in Indis owes it to citizens to throw open all its plans for scrutiny.
Mumbai's problems stem from its highly uneven development, with pockets of prosperity surrounded by mass deprivation. This is nowhere clearer than in housing. The municipal corporation has just estimated that 63% of the city's houses consist of slums, chawls (row tenements) and pavement dwellings.
More than six out of every 10 Mumbaikars live in homes of less than 650 sq ft. This is the flip side of the abysmal lack of employment, which denies citizens the job security required to raise home loans. Half the population has a household income of Rs20,000 a month.
The Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority has virtually stopped building for low-income residents, leaving them at the mercy of builders. One interesting revelation at the Mumbai First meet was a report by Deloitte on affordable housing.
Enlightened sections of the private sector have realised that there is an opportunity to build such houses worth between Rs4 to Rs10 lakh for anyone with a monthly income of around Rs25,000. Some 80,000 homes worth less than Rs10 lakh are being built in 22 cities, including Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Indore, by 10 companies.
Darryl D'Monte is chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India
The views expressed by the author are personal