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Development plan could be Mumbai’s death warrant

Mumbaiites have been invited to send in their objections and suggestions on the development plan (DP), but it is anybody’s guess if these will be received with a modicum of gravity and purpose.

columns Updated: Feb 17, 2015 22:30 IST
Mumbai Development plan,BMC

In the second month of 2015, the development plan (DP) for Mumbai spanning 2014-34 is finally in the public domain. It will take a while for it to be finalised and then adopted before it is ready for implementation.

Mumbaiites have been invited to send in their objections and suggestions, but it is anybody’s guess if these will be received with a modicum of gravity and purpose.

The DP has the potential to reimagine a city and reorganise it. The Mumbai DP has unfortunately turned into an academic exercise. That said, it is still necessary to engage with it because it is the only official version of planning for the city. The last DP was from 1991 to 2011. It was also delayed.

Subsequently, the city’s development hardly conformed to it. For the intervening three years, the city did not have a DP, but it certainly did not halt development.

The DP 2014-34 is remarkably honest for the vision it paints of the city: more constructed areas, higher densities and a vertical city.

The emphasis is on vertical growth, deliberately increased densities in certain areas, variable area-specific floor space index (FSI) instead of a flat base ratio of built to plot area, less open space per person as well a reduction in the average open space for residents, more concentrated business districts including one in verdant Aarey, Goregaon.

Of all the proposals in the DP, the increase in the base FSI and the introduction of a variable area-specific FSI have the potential to change not only the physical appearance of the city, but also impact the way we will negotiate it.

The base FSI, now 1.33 in the island city and 1 in the suburbs, will be raised to 2.5, which means the built up environment can be two-and-a-half times the size of the plot it occupies. In some areas such as transit corridors of the metro and monorail, the FSI can be as high as 8.

The increase in FSI and introduction of variable FSI are considered “pragmatic” by municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte, who first hinted at these at the high-powered Mumbai Next: Transforming MMR conclave earlier this month.

The current “artificial low restriction of FSI” was a way to “keep city’s population under control”, he said. Kunte could not have been more wrong.

The “low” FSI certainly did not stem Mumbai’s population growth. Nor was it strictly adhered to. In effect, the FSI used in a number of projects was higher, in some cases even 6 or more.

Capping it officially at 2.5 to 8 means the actual use will be many times higher. This can take Mumbai in only one direction: frantic densification of an already unbearably dense city.

In Mumbai, as in other cities of India, the built environment grew at a faster pace than population in the past 20 years, studies have shown.

In the decade leading up to 2010-11, the city saw an approximately 11% increase in its population, but a huge 33% in built-up area. The picture for 2014-34 will be many times more stark.

The doyens of the construction and real estate sectors must be elated at having cracked the political barrier they faced in the past few years in raising the FSI.

They are fond of quoting high FSI ratios or equivalent concepts in New York, among other international cities. The difference is that in NY, the floor area ratio is only one of the indices used.

It continues to be a well-planned city.

The DP 2014-34 hardly gives us confidence that Mumbai will be one too.

First Published: Feb 17, 2015 22:29 IST