Fadnavis has new bold plans for MMR, but are they inclusive?

  • Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Aug 10, 2016 10:48 IST

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) has caught the attention of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. The MMR, one of the fastest growing urban clusters in India, was mostly treated as an extended far suburb of Mumbai and home to the city’s working population. The concept of integrating it into a common metropolitan region is more than 40 years old but the idea of planned and sustainable development across it was not a priority for state governments.

Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Mira-Bhayander, Vasai-Virar, Kalyan-Dombivli, Bhiwandi-Nizampur and Ulhasnagar comprise the MMR. Each has its own municipal corporation. The MMR is now poised to be the world’s largest urban cluster, or urban agglomeration as planners call it. The eight cities are spread across 4,355 square kilometres, have a total population of 20.75 million and growing – the size of Sri Lanka or Romania – and a services-driven economy projected to grow at 7% to 9% annually.

Projections are that the MMR will house a staggering 37 million people by 2032 and nearly 44 million by 2052, and could be the most complex urban regions in the world to govern. The MMR is “one of the two most exciting urban agglomerations in the world to track”, Saskia Sassen, the renowned sociologist and urban studies scholar, had told me way back in 2007 during the Urban Age conference in Mumbai. The other was Shanghai in China.

Fadnavis announced a decision for the MMR last weekend which his predecessors had shied away from – a uniform set of Development Control Regulations. Accordingly, the region will have an unvarying set of rules and protocols which determine land use, construction and building norms, reservation of plots, open spaces and amenities. It is a decision of far-reaching consequences for the region which is not a naturally homogenous or uniform area in geographical, physical, climatic or cultural features.

It had become necessary to bring order to the random and chaotic growth that most MMR cities have seen in the last decade. But the uniform set of regulations ignores the inter-regional differences, the unique urban-rural mix in some of the cities like Vasai-Virar, and the right of citizens to determine the growth of their city. There were serious deliberations about a uniform DCR for the MMR during Prithviraj Chavan’s tenure but he did not bite the bullet.

The uniform DCR is a route to more structured and planned development of the region, Fadnavis said. He apparently wants it be India’s financial capital region. In February, he had unveiled the comprehensive mobility plan for transport corridors between Mumbai and the other cities of the MMR. The move towards uniform regulations is the big flamboyant idea which Fadnavis hopes will bring the big boys of foreign investment to the region.

By now, Fadnavis must have read the clutch of vision or development plans for the MMR. The DCR would have to dovetail into the ideas in the plans. The more recent ones include the McKinsey Global Institute’s report of 2010 and the Concept Plan for MMR of 2011 shepherded by the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit. They are useful, impressively worded, good-looking documents that only lavish resources can yield. But do they reflect the voices and aspirations of the millions who live and work in the MMR?

Development plans have the tendency to place land use and land-banking for industry and commerce above all other considerations. The top-down plans prepared by bureaucrats and private consultants offer a vision which is not that of all classes of citizens, as architect-planners Hussain Indorewala and Shweta Wagh pointed out about Mumbai’s DP. Along with NGOs, they facilitated meetings in Mumbai last year in which a number of stakeholder citizens’ groups articulated their needs and visions for Mumbai. This led to the People’s Vision Document which reads significantly different from the official development plan.

Fadnavis’s decisions for the MMR appear bold but will they create a megacity that is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive? The jury is out on that.

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