Should Mumbai’s 189 indigenous villages remain gaothans, even as the rest of the city is transformed around them, or should they have the option of developing, redeveloping and growing as they wish?
In a city where heritage is treated with nonchalance, conservationists say it would be a crime to let the quaint, winding lanes and charming homes be replaced by concrete blocks.
But ask the gaothan residents, and you hit a raw nerve.
“We have been neglected by our elected representatives and successive governments,” says Godfrey Pimenta, resident of the Marol gaothan and head sarpanch of the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat.
After pleading for decades for better drainage systems, more regular water supply and an easing of restrictions on basic repairs on their heritage structures, Mumbai’s gaothans united last month to form an extra-constitutional panchayat.
They have no real powers, yet. But they are monitoring work in their areas, demanding to know how funds are spent. And threatening to enter politics via the 2012 municipal elections if they don’t get what they want.
One of their key demands is a higher floor-space index — which would mean they could add vertically to their homes. While the gaothan residents say they need this additional space to accommodate their growing families, conservationists and urban development experts say it would ruin the character of the gaothans and further stress the already overburdened infrastructure in these areas.
Worse still, a higher FSI would undoubtedly see some homeowners give in to private builders and sell their prime plots.
As heritage conservationist David Cardoz put it: “Gaothans already have a higher FSI than the rest of the city. How else could they have two-storey homes on such tiny plots?”
Meanwhile, the Mobai panchayat is growing in strength, with the 17 sarpanches and deputy sarpanches elected recently now representing the villages in all dealings with the civic and state governments.
Pankaj Joshi, director of Urban Development Research Institute, who has studied the city gaothans, says this may be the best thing for them, but cautions that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution to the complex issues they face. BMC standing committee chairman Rahul Shewale, who has spearheaded infrastructure development work in the three Trombay gaothans, says the best thing for the gaothans may be for the panchayat to work from within the system.
“Their parallel group has no legal standing,” he says. “The MGP should contest elections and join the BMC if they want to make a difference.”
So, is the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat just what these villages need? A look at the varying opinions…