A pipe dream called town planning
There are plans for a world-class city.
Last month, the state government declared — with much fanfare — that it was committed to developing the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) as one of the biggest urban centres in the world. It estimated that a whopping Rs 27,000 crore will have to be invested in infrastructure — mass transit system, water supply, sanita tion and public utilities — to cater to the needs of the 1.77 crore population in the area. The state even convinced the World Bank to invest 10 per cent of the estimated Rs 27,000 crore.
Now, for a reality check.
The same government is allowing thousands of residents of illegal constructions in Kalyan-Dombivli to regularise their buildings by paying a mere Rs 500 per square foot.And it’s not just the residents of the 78,000 illegal constructions of Kalyan and Dombivli that the government is appeasing; it offered a similar solution to residents of illegal buildings in Ulhasnagar in January this year. Next in line will be the townships of Mira-Bhayander, Thane, Ambernath, Bhiwandi and Navi Mumbai.
While this may be good news for residents and builders of illegal constructions, this can hardly be the policy for sound town planning. Experts in urban planning are now questioning if the government is serious in its effort to make MMR a world-class city .
“No planning exists in a situation like this,” said VK Pathak, former chief town planner of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the nodal agency for MMR development project.
Chandrashekhar Prabhu, urban planner, and former President of Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) said: “The issue of regularising illegal construction by the government itself puts it in a sorry position. It has now become a tool in the hands of politicians and they use it for political benefits. In this state, there is no proper planning and no decisions is taken on merit and welfare of citizens.”
The government is planning sea-links, expressways, mass transit system like metro rail and sky bus, to improve connectivity in MMR. But political pressure and a builder-politician-bureaucrats nexus ensures the grand plans do not affect their vested interests.
And experts are striking a cautious note. “The development in the future will be skewed because buildings are coming up on plots meant for hospitals, schools, nursing homes and play grounds.
Town planning is not just about raising structures. It is about providing basic amenities to ensure a certain standard of life,” said Prashant Malwade, former town planner with the government.
But the government defends its decision. “It (regularising illegal constructions) is not a policy. We were under pressure to do so,” said additional chief secretary (urban development) Ramanand Tiwari.
But experts argue that regularising illegal structures is not a solution.
“One can understand if the government regularises a hut where a poor man lives. But these are large number of illegal townships constructed by builders who earn huge amounts of money. There is no justification for the government to regularise such constructions,” said Prabhu.
And it is only a matter of time before local politicians in Mira-Bhayander take advantage of a similar situation. A survey of the western suburb pointed that there are some 3,000 illegal buildings in the area following a 1994 Bombay High Court directive. So is there still hope of a ‘planned town’?
“I cannot say for sure that we won’t or we will legalise these buildings,” said Tiwari.