East coast revamp holds promise if...

The eastern waterfront redevelopment project is exciting, and promises to be transformational for Mumbai, but only if what MbPT chief Sanjay Bhatia promises is carried out in letter and spirit
Mumbai Port Trust chief Sanjay Bhatia.(HT FILE)
Mumbai Port Trust chief Sanjay Bhatia.(HT FILE)
Published on Feb 22, 2019 12:36 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAyaz Memon

The development of Mumbai’s eastern waterfront offers splendid opportunity for authorities and urban planners to redeem the city from the mess it is in currently. But for this, a holistic, well-defined vision and diligent detailing are at the core.

The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT), which has been entrusted with this revamp, had asked for suggestions from the public after it put out its development plan in December and received 920 suggestions/objections till the deadline of January 28.

The fact that the MbPT was willing to listen to citizens is a healthy sign. It’s not often that authorities are so receptive, preferring to thrust development plans down the throats of the citizenry, also ignoring domain experts in the process.

This ‘open’ approach has got a fillip with MbPT chairman Sanjay Bhatia saying on Wednesday (as reported by this newspaper) that the trust has not shut its doors to further suggestions/objections that can add value to those already received.

Mr Bhatia says that there is a four-month window in which suggestions received so far and more that come now will be scrutinised thoroughly before making a final presentation to the state and central governments for approval. This is fair dinkum and those unconvinced should make their compunctions known post-haste rather than indulging in breast-beating in future.

While the number of original responses received – 920 — might seem meagre, this must be seen in the context of the nature of the project. Mega infrastructure plans are generally beyond the understanding of ordinary folk, but it doesn’t mean they are uncaring.

The lay citizenry – and not only from the areas under development, but also those who view the city as an organic whole – rely on experts to hold up their interest in such matters. The numbers of these citizens would run into tens of thousands.

It is reasonable to assume that the 920 people include activists, experts, progressives, reactionaries et al with differing perspectives and plans. But I would venture there is underlying theme which binds them all.

This theme is not so much about the east waterfront project per se, rather the fear that it should not go the way of other such projects in the past where grandiose ideas remained on paper while what emerged was grotesque exploitation of land.

The redevelopment of mills land dereserved in Parel, Labaug and adjoining areas is too recent and too stark to overlook. What was promised here was an assembly of enclaves with open spaces, parks, cultural hubs along with residential and corporate conclaves.

The formula to be applied for mills lands was one third for sale, one for open spaces and the remaining for affordable housing, but was flouted to the hilt once redevelopment began, and spiralled out of control once land sharks and other vested interests took over.

Little attention was paid to the conveniences and well-being of people living/working here, even less to aesthetics. Today, Parel (and adjoining areas) is a mighty sprawl of cement and concrete, instead of the promised haven within the main city.

Without going into specifics, the redevelopment plan (as yet) of the eastern waterfront promises not just what Parel’s revamp was meant to be, but a great deal more in terms of facilities and amenities. The land to be redeveloped stretches for approximately 10 km from Colaba to Wadala, encompassing 966-odd hectares, which gives the MbPT more scope naturally. Plus, the time lag since Parel’s redevelopment means newer urban planning techniques and technologies are available. Apart, of course, from it being located on a scenic coastline.

This is fantastic, but could end up becoming a chimera if the plans and blueprints run askew, as happened with Parel. Already, misgivings have arisen following the emphasis on commercial exploitation of the land that runs contrary to original vision espoused by Rani Jadhav committee that preceded the present one.

The current chairman has been at pains to explain that his agenda and plans are not a total rebuttal of the Rani Jadhav committee proposal, but will be a ‘borrow and improve’ process, keeping in mind the best interests of the city and its denizens.

All told, the eastern waterfront redevelopment project is exciting, and promises to be transformational for Mumbai, but only if what Mr Bhatia promises is carried out in letter and spirit, with improving the quality of life in Mumbai as its fundamental objective.

One is hopeful.

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