Mumbai Port Trust may go the mill land way
The committee recommended that 50% area could go to mill owners, while 33.33% for civic amenities and 16.66% for affordable housing with higher buildable rightsUpdated: Aug 06, 2019 17:50 IST
With the port trust land, let history not repeat itself in Mumbai.
First, the flashback: After the 1982 mill strike, the city’s vibrant Girangaon, which supported a workforce of at least 2.5 lakh workers, shut down, with workers, chawls and mills making way for upscale neighbourhoods and new towers. In the late 1990s and first decade of millennium, central Mumbai started to get a new landscape and skyline. Spread across 240 hectares or 600 acres, the defunct mill land got revamped into luxury apartments, corporate offices, five-star hotels and shopping malls, without the adequate infrastructural upgrade. The redevelopment, skewed in favour of mill owners, meant the city lost its golden opportunity to reinvent itself.
Cut to 2018: The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) plans to open up the eastern waterfront, four times the size of the erstwhile mill land. What started in 2014 as an idea to give major chunks of 966.30 hectares between Wadala and Colaba to public, has eventually turned into a commercial development plan with sea terminal and water tourism, leaving only 74 hectares accessible to common public. “The situation is similar to that of the mill land. The land was given to MbPT to run a port. If port activities are shut, they must look at developing the land for people, with adequate housing or amenities, and not for profit,” said Shirish Patel, an urban planner who analysed the plan.
20 YEARS AND COUNTING
Two scenarios across two decades highlight what Mumbai has lost and may well lose again.
In 1991, as textile mills shut down, the state drafted the development control rule 58 to redevelop mill land. DCR 58 proposed the one-third formula to equally distribute the land. The mills owners could sell one-third, give one part to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to create open spaces and the third part to Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) to create affordable housing for mill workers, who lost their livelihood after the mills were shut. There was no response to the DCR, with the mill owners refusing to come up with redevelopment plans.
In 1996, the saffron government set up a committee under noted architect and urban planner Charles Correa to suggest ways to redevelop the land and prepare a blueprint for the National Textile Corporation-owned 25 mills and one state-owned mill to show how redevelopment could benefit each stakeholder – by developing civic amenities, infrastructure, open spaces, along with private development.
The committee recommended that 50% area could go to mill owners, while 33.33% for civic amenities and 16.66% for affordable housing with higher buildable rights. The report, with detailed drawings and plans to develop each of these mills and areas around them, including expansion of Elphinstone station with boulevards, gardens, and better infrastructure, was never implemented.
In 2001, then Congress government introduced an amendment to the development control regulations (DCR)-58 that titled the scales in favour of mill owners. The amendment said only vacant land or land with no built-up structure could be used for the one-third formula. Allowing mill owners to sell bulk of the land for profits, coupled with political and civic apathy, led to haphazard development with skyrocketing of real estate prices.
PORT IN A STORM
The urban design research institute (UDRI), in their suggestions and objections to the MbPT draft proposal, said if the provisions of the current plan are not made clear, the land will suffer the same fate as mills. The plan published in December 2018 states that one of its objectives is to address the changing demands of the market. In the context of the mill land, Correa had said: “Market forces do not make cities, they destroy them.”
Another of the port trust’s objectives is to unlock the commercial value of the land. It has reserved 25.63% of the 966 hectares for commercial development and proposed a floor space index (FSI) of 4 for a central business district, central finance district, hotels and business offices. As opposed to this, it has reserved only 10.76% of the land for housing, forgetting its promises of affordable housing on this land when the BMC’s development plan 2034 was released in 2016. An earlier report commissioned by the Centre also stressed on inclusive housing for citizens. Pankaj Joshi, executive director of UDRI, said, “This is a clear sign that port lands will see massive commercial development, with high-end, high-rise residencies, benefitting only a few.” Joshi said MbPT has no clear strategy on how the plan will be financed, which can result in the port land using the area for luxury housing and corporate offices to offset the costs of developing infrastructure.
WHERE WILL TENANTS GO?
The Rani Jadhav committee set up by the Centre to develop strategies to rejuvenate these areas emphasised on developing an entrepreneurship promotion zone for small-scale industries. It also stressed on giving an impetus to local jobs, noting the port trust area is dotted with people involved in blue-collar jobs. The report has been put on the backburner.
The biggest landlord of the city, MbPT, has 2,788 lessees occupying 275 hectares, the Jadhav committee said. From Hotel Taj to small-scale industries, some of who moved into these lands 100 years ago, are MbPT’s tenants. However, the MbPT plan is silent on these people, unlike some port lands developed in other parts of the world. For instance, when the Rotterdam port was being developed, a micro-franchising model was adopted to match the individuals with the jobs they have skill-sets for. The trust has also irked the residents in its bid to implement the ambitious plan. The report suggests that it earns only about ₹150 crore from rent every year. Now, an urgency to convert large parts of these lands to develop a “tourism hub” has resulted in MbPT making attempts to get the land back from these tenants.
Preeti Shenoy, a resident of Madhav Bhavan at Darukhana, an area meant for ship-breaking activities and slums, was served an eviction notice in 2015, after which the residents moved the Bombay high court. Now, the new plan has shown the building as part of widened road, Shenoy alleged. “We have been living here for 60 years and now our building is in the way of a road widening project. We have been paying our dues and taxes regularly. Why should we suffer this fate?” she said.
A senior planner from MbPT, however, said, “The eviction is being carried out on the basis of lease agreements that were signed and have expired. Notices have been issued to defaulters only.”
Recently, MbPT also asked tenants to submit an undertaking that the payment of rent does not create any tenancy rights.
Laxman Bansal, general secretary of the Darukhana Iron, Steel and Merchants Association, said the plan does not offer any alternative space to the existing merchants. “After being here for 100 years, we can’t be called trespassers. We will fight this the right way,” Bansal said.
Hussain Indorewala, assistant professor at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi College of Architecture, who has been closely looking at the issue, said, “Any plan should look at socio-economic issues of that area and spatial growth. The new plan focusses on monetising, instead of addressing the questions of housing, workers’ problems or public resources.”
PUBLIC SPACED OUT
At 1.24 sqm a person, the city’s open space per person ratio is low. According to reports, if the mill land was developed according to its original plan, the city would have got 160 acres. But the subversion of mill lands brought Mumbai only 35 acres of open spaces. Seventeen mill lands are yet to be developed. The city could get 130 acres from the development of these lands if a notification moved by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in 2017 gets cleared.
The notification had mooted the original one-third formula, but this has been opposed by the textile ministry.
In case of the eastern waterfront, if the Jadhav committee report is considered, Mumbai can get 216 hectares of parks, playgrounds and gardens. But if MbPT’s current proposal is sanctioned, the city won’t get most of this.
HT has been highlighting how the plan promises open spaces, but what is finally accessible is just 7.4% of the entire area for Mumbaiites, thanks to the riders. When the Jadhav committee started preparing its report on the land, it invited suggestions and objections from citizens. The ideas reflect Mumbaiites urge for more recreational spaces in the city.
The report reads, “The idea of not letting the development go the mill land way has been voiced repeatedly. Contributors have urged a cohesive, environment friendly, planned approach to the effort which focuses on citizen-based infrastructure and steers away from commercial growth.”
First Published: Feb 05, 2019 01:55 IST