Tall ambitions, low hopes
Finally, the state is looking to match building norms with infrastructure. But, in a city where arbitrary relaxations of construction regulations are common, experts doubt whether things will change for the better.Updated: Sep 07, 2010 02:17 IST
Within three months, Mumbai may get its first policy on vertical growth. For the first time, the state government is looking to match floor space index (FSI) — norms, based on plot size, that regulate how high a building can go — with infrastructure.
A panel, set up by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan in May, has been asked to submit recommendations on the matter. Though it was supposed to submit its report in three months, the panel is expected to do so only by December.
The decision to put in place norms for vertical development follows increasing opposition to arbitrary hiking of FSI for certain projects, such as slum rehabilitation, which leads to congestion and strain on infrastructure.
Hindustan Times, in its citizens' charter submitted to the state government at the Mumbai First Conclave in June, had flagged these concerns. The charter, based on a survey of over 10,000 Mumbaiites, asked the panel to ensure FSI is used as a planning tool and not as an incentive to developers to take on public projects.
Consider this. Mumbai has huge constraints on vertical development. Its FSI is limited to 1.33, ie, built-up area on a plot can't exceed 1.33 times its size. Yet, it's likely to be home to the world's tallest residential tower — 117 storeys — to be built by the Lodha Group in Central Mumbai.
Fifteen other high-rises have been cleared in the Lower Parel-Worli belt. These towers will have an average height of 70 storeys.
In all these cases, builders were granted higher FSI in return for creating public parking and for taking up slum rehabilitation.
Such trade-offs are not compatible with infrastructure, from street width outside the building to water supply.
As a result of these relaxations, Central Mumbai is set to get 40 million sq ft of residential space without any upgrade of its roads, water supply or sewerage capacity.
The panel, led by Urban Development Secretary T.C. Benjamin, was asked to focus on this aspect. "We'll focus on the city's carrying capacity," said Pramod Shende, deputy secretary, urban development, who's part of the panel.
Urban planners were sceptical. "How can the committee decide FSI without considering parameters such as population projections, land use and infrastructure investment?" said urban planner V.K. Phatak. "The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is drawing up a Development Plan that will be cleared by 2012. Any FSI regime should match this plan."
The Shiv Sena, which runs the BMC, is now echoing the experts' argument. Partially, at least. Uddhav Thackeray, Sena executive president, told Hindustan Times: "FSI decisions should be taken by the BMC since it is answerable for basic infrastructure issues." You can't have an increasing number of high-rises without a corresponding augmentation of infrastructure, he added.
Former World Bank planner Alain Bertaud had recommended that FSI be hiked to match the city's spatial structure and land use patterns. He called for FSI in the 8-10 range for business centres such as Bandra-Kurla Complex and transport corridors — along the Metro lines, for instance.
Panel members said conditions in the city are different from elsewhere. "I don't know if we can, say, give high FSI around proposed Metro corridors given the infrastructure deficit there," said a panel member on condition of anonymity.
Inputs from Sayli Udas Mankikar.