Hundreds of public amenities, such as schools, colleges and hospitals, and some landmark structures like the Bombay Stock Exchange tower have gone missing from the city’s development plan.
In yet another controversial move, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has decided not to mark several critical privately-owned public amenities in the city’s blueprint for the next 20 years.
Some of these include the SNDT Women’s University in Marine Lines, Kirti M Doongursee College at Dadar, PD Hinduja Hospital & Research Centre at Mahim, the Bombay Stock Exchange tower, Haj House and the Swantantrya Veer Savarkar Memorial at Shivaji Park. The survey has also not marked many student hostels, mainly around Churchgate and Grant Road, both prime real estate area.
Why is this a problem? In its freshly-released designation survey, the BMC has not marked these amenities for their current use, but instead, recommended that the amenities be “included in the surrounding zone”. This means their use in the development plan will not be specific, but vague, because the civic body has created two mixed-use zones — commercial and residential.
Many believe this ambiguity could lead to land owners easily changing the use of these essential amenities.
At a time when the city is woefully short of civic amenities, urban planners and activists feel the move would only make it easier for these amenities to slip away from the public and be used for outright commercial purposes.
The BMC has defended the move, saying marking amenities owned privately makes little sense. The BMC said the facilities are all public amenities that have come up on privately-owned land, with no reservation of the plot in previous DPs.
Explaining the rationale, BMC chief Ajoy Mehta said, “There is no legal sanctity to these markings on the DP, unless we move to acquire these plots. This, again, is not possible as it would involve spending a lot of money, which we can’t afford. Hence, we have not marked these plots.”
But Hussain Indorewala, urban planner and assistant professor at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture said it’s a disastrous move.
“It works at cross-purposes with the idea of the DP, which is to strengthen the provision of public amenities in the city. We need to identify infrastructure that has come up, even if it is owned privately. We need to find innovative ways to ensure we can retain the uses of these structures, even if they are privately owned.”
Indorewala said the BMC’s move looks like an about-turn in its position on marking such amenities.
“In the draft DP that has been scrapped by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, the BMC clearly spelled out it would be mapping all privately-owned amenities. Why have they taken a U-turn now?”
But Mehta said, while the BMC will not map all these private amenities, it will reserve some of them.
“We will look at the infrastructural deficiencies in each area, and if we find it is deficient in any one form of public amenity, we will reserve these private amenities as well.”