An idea that missed the big picture

The state government's cluster redevelopment policy notified in March 2009 was flawed from the start. Not surprisingly,not one project has been completed under the scheme so far,says Manasi Phadke

Written by MANASI PHADKE | Published: October 16, 2013 5:33:31 am

Among several other elements,one thing that characterizes Mumbai is the thousands of crumbling multi-storey archaic buildings,some older than 80 years,dotting the narrow by-lanes of the island city. Every monsoon,the residents,government officials and disaster control personnel wait with bated breath for the season to pass peacefully,fearing structural damage to these precarious buildings that could cause loss of life. In other seasons,the residents are busy tending to their decrepit structures.

To fast-track the redevelopment of such structures,the state government had in 1999 decided to offer a slew of incentives to private developers to rehabilitate the tenants. Although the scheme gave people newer,sturdier and slightly bigger homes,such piecemeal development did little to improve their accessibility to urban services. In some ways,it made the situation even worse as the number of people living in the same area multiplied due to the sale component developers would get as incentive. The density of population surged and the quality of life plummeted. Thus,a need was felt to frame a redevelopment policy for entire clusters of perilous “cessed” buildings – those built before 1969 and which pay a cess to the housing board for maintenance – and other dilapidated structures.

Officials felt,and rightly so,that a cluster approach will give state agencies a chance to carefully plan the traffic dispersal,social infrastructure such as health and education services,open spaces and other urban services along with redeveloping worn-down buildings.

It has been nearly eight years since the state government and urban planners started discussing the concept of cluster redevelopment and more than four years since the state government actually finalised its policy for the same. However,not a single project has been completed.

Further,with the exception of the revamp of Bhendi Bazaar,there are no promises anywhere of dense,crowded localities housing run-down buildings metamorphosing into spacious well-planned areas with wide roads,sunny scrapers and ample green spaces.

There are only a handful of projects that are at an advanced stage of getting clearances under the cluster redevelopment scheme,besides some in the pipeline. However,looking at their scope,they are likely to be only a shade better than the piecemeal redevelopment of individual buildings as the proposals are for very small clusters.

CLUSTER REDEVELOPMENT POLICY,ITS SHORTCOMINGS

The state government had introduced its policy for cluster redevelopment through a notification on March 2,2009. The policy,laid down under 33/9 of the Development Control Rules (DCR),says the urban renewal scheme would be for any sprawl in the island city having a minimum area of 4,000 sqm (approximately one acre) and bounded by existing distinct physical boundaries such as roads,nallahs and railway lines. The policy said the scheme would cover structures such as cessed buildings,derelict government,semi-government and municipal buildings,and even slum structures or other decrepit buildings unfit for occupation.

Some urban planning experts have criticised the policy,primarily for its definition of a cluster. “The government notification completely defeated the purpose. There is hardly any scope for creating infrastructure,open plots and quality urban services within just one acre. With this approach,planned redevelopment won’t work,” says Sulakshana Mahajan,urban planner at the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU),a state government think-tank.

The basis for a cluster redevelopment policy was a study that the MTSU had commissioned in 2006-07 to examine implementation of urban renewal schemes using the cluster approach in certain diverse areas of Mumbai.

Mahajan says,“The recommendation was that a cluster should be planned on a minimum of 25 acres. The government should provide for a master plan for the entire area and then take up redevelopment of buildings plot by plot,with every plot being 4,000 sqm. However,the cluster policy,when introduced,did not take this into account.”

An official,who did not wish to be named,says the minimum area for a cluster was kept at one acre as some builders felt that making big clusters would limit the scheme only to big builders. There was also a concern that getting consent from all parties involved for very large clusters would be difficult,time-consuming and could stall projects.

The MTSU’s pilot study had looked at four areas – the densely populated Null Bazaar in C Ward,Bora Bazaar in the A ward,the middle-class locality of Girgaon dominated by chawls in C and D ward,and the comparatively well laid-out stretch of Dadar Parsee Colony. The study was executed by Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture with support from experts from the World Bank,and was financed by the state housing board.

The report had said,“It is strongly advocated that the cluster/precinct approach be incentivised as it would not only foster better usage of floor space index,but would also prevent developers from taking advantage of divisions among residents of various buildings in the area by negotiating separately with residents of each building.”

The study had further said,“It is imperative that a comprehensive physical and socio-economic mapping of cessed buildings on a GIS platform be undertaken and these should be grouped into precincts. The planning authority or MHADA should undertake such an exercise.”

However,within the framework of the current policy,the state government or the civic body does not proactively demarcate and form clusters. It is the project proponents who group clusters and send proposals to the state government for redevelopment under DCR 33/9.

Hence,developers often include even those buildings that are perfectly fit and can be easily maintained and kept habitable through minor repairs,to be part of their redevelopment plan,says a state government official who did not wish to be named.

“People manage certificates from the civic body for even fit buildings to show they are structurally weak and thus include them in the cluster plan. Thus,perfectly sound buildings are getting redeveloped,” he says.

Narinder Nayar,managing director at Concast (India) and a member of the state government’s empowered committee on Mumbai transformation,says it is important for the government to have a master plan for a particular cluster. “There has to be a master plan for infrastructure and amenities. First,the government should carry out a study on the carrying capacity and the existing density in an area and only then take a decision on how much floor space index can be given as an incentive for the project. Also,there has to be a policy where the minimum area for a cluster is at least eight acres or 10 acres. “

Another major reason for cluster redevelopment in Mumbai not having taken off as originally envisaged is the existence of a parallel redevelopment policy under DCR 33/7 for individual cessed buildings. If the two schemes,DCR 33/7 for redevelopment of cessed buildings and DCR 33/9 for cluster redevelopment,are compared,the differences in the incentives for the developers between the two are negligible.

Under the scheme for the redevelopment of cessed buildings,a developer is entitled to an FSI of 3 or that required for rehabilitation of tenants and a minimum incentive of 50 per cent that increases with the plot size,whichever is higher. Under the cluster redevelopment scheme,developers are either entitled to an FSI of 4 or that required for rehabilitation of tenants and a minimum incentive of 55 per cent that increases depending on the plot size,whichever is higher. FSI refers to the ratio of the building’s total floor area to the size of the plot.

With the incentive more or less similar,more developers prefer revamping individual cessed buildings since they need to negotiate with fewer tenants and even fewer landlords,which makes securing their consent and the whole process easier and faster than in the case of a cluster of buildings. The developer gets his incentive floor space index and can complete and exit the scheme much sooner than in a cluster redevelopment proposal.

Debashish Chakrabarty,principal secretary at the state housing department,says,“It is a fact that because of parallel redevelopment schemes with similar incentives,many choose to go in for the former. We must think of how to further incentivise the cluster redevelopment scheme.”

Besides,it is extremely time-consuming to get the mandatory consent of 70 per cent of tenants and get all landowners on board for a cluster redevelopment project. The largest such project,the overhaul of Bhendi Bazaar,has also been facing problems of land acquisition. Although the initial plan was to redevelop 18 acres,it had to be cut down to 16.5 acres or 249 buildings as a few people were not keen on being a part of the project.

Developers complain that sensing opportunity,landowners demand exorbitant rates,much more than the market price,for parting with their development rights on the property. This makes land aggregation an arduous,expensive and a time-consuming task.

Shaikh Abdeali Bhanpurawala,trustee and secretary at the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT),which is implementing the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment project,says,“Hiking rates is acceptable. Even if they are asking for double the ready reckoner rate,it is fine. But landlords at times quote unreasonable sums,even 20 and 30 times the prevailing rate.”

Bhanpurawala says the state government should ease the requirement for consent of landowners and impose some stipulation about the price at which the land is to be acquired.

Currently,a state government-constituted committee under Manu Kumar Srivastava,principal secretary to the urban development department,is reviewing all sections related to redevelopment in the DCR,including the cluster redevelopment scheme. A report is expected soon.

PROJECTS UNDER THE CLUSTER SCHEME

When the state government finalised its policy for cluster redevelopment within the island city,it had appointed a high-powered committee to screen and recommend proposals for clearance to the state government. The high-powered committee,which is headed by BMC commissioner,also has other members such as MMRDA Commissioner,chief officer of MHADA’s Mumbai repair and reconstruction board,joint commissioner of police (traffic),chief architect at PWD,deputy director of town planning and the director of engineering services and projects at BMC.

As per BMC data,the committee has so far sanctioned five proposals for cluster redevelopment under DCR 33/9. These proposals involve plots ranging from one acre to about 17 acres in size,which is a far cry from the 25 acres that was initially recommended.

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