On Tuesday, after four years in gestation, a 20-year master plan to govern Mumbai’s development received the final nod from the Maharashtra government. The Mumbai Development Plan 2034 notched up a significant first to its credit in the drafting itself, through a first-ever consultative process with citizen-stakeholders.
Once it comes into effect, its biggest interventions will include two more firsts — a planned and systematic stimulus for affordable housing amid India’s most unaffordable real estate, and steps to reinforce the financial capital’s somewhat enfeebled claim to the position of urbs prima.
The new DP makes many right noises. While promising to protect coastline features including beaches, estuaries, mudflats and mangroves, it proposes adding over 3,700 hectares of land currently marked as no-development zones, including salt-pan lands, for various segments of affordable housing. Sixty hectares of the Mumbai Port Trust’s 721.24 ha have also been earmarked for affordable housing. In all, nearly one-eighth of Mumbai’s existing landmass is to be infused as newly developable land, especially for housing for economically weaker segments, low income group housing and slum rehousing.
In another first, the “accommodation reservation policy” that will incentivise private landowners who choose to develop amenities that their lands stand reserved for could finally see these amenities — playgrounds, gardens, health centres, shelters for the homeless, etc — actually be built instead of remaining on paper.
But curiously, after putting the planners through the paces of an unprecedented consultative effort, the government then proceeded to undermine the plan with multiple, unilateral alterations over the last several months. These tweaks include some so critical as to all but fritter away the wins of the previous participative process.
For example, while previous regimes protected a cap on FSI (floor space index, which limits the floor area on a given plot) in the congested island city, Development Plan 2034 will now permit additional FSI in South and Central Mumbai upon payment of a premium. The plan does not venture to offer any explanations on how additional construction will impact creaking infrastructure in these areas. So after first claiming, during the process of framing this very plan, that a universal base FSI of 2 would suffice for population projections in Mumbai until 2034, the government has now reversed its own contentions in permitting further densification. As reported by The Indian Express earlier, further densification on account of higher FSI for a range of schemes — building hotels, redevelopment of old buildings, slum rehousing, fin-tech or bio-tech parks, medical or educational hubs, parking lots on private land, mill workers’ housing, etc — will clearly require mitigation measures, also not currently in discussion.
This FSI largesse for commercial construction has been sought to be explained away as essential impetus for commerce and growth, but without commensurate additions to transport infrastructure and mass transit systems, a further gridlocking of commercial hubs appears inevitable. The inability to reconcile planning for social equity and for economic growth could raise the threat of tragic scenarios of the kind that Mumbai has witnessed only recently — 14 dead in a fire in a plush central Mumbai pub in the heart of a commercial and entertainment hub, and 23 dead in a stampede at a railway station that was neither originally designed nor retrofitted for the commercial hub that the area has turned into.
This fragmented nature of planning was at the root cause of the stampede and the pub fire, for both were symptomatic of central Mumbai’s haphazard boom, an unplanned growth but one that took place with the full blessings of the government and municipal authorities.
On slum rehousing, in a reversal of the free-homes policy in place since the 1990s, the government has now proposed that all slum-dwellers living in shanties since after the cut-off date of January 1, 2000, will also be eligible for rehabilitation, but on payment of construction costs of their new homes as provided by the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Every second Mumbaite’s residential address is a slum, and political expediency could easily lead to the new proposal’s collapse.
But for once, alongside the glib targets, planners have sought to admit the flaws and failures of the previous plan. A review committee suggested a “cafeteria” approach or a “banquet of options” for slum upgrade and redevelopment to replace the failed SRA model. At some point in the not-so-distant future, planners will have to acknowledge this.
But in the end, Development Plan 2034 is tragically limited by what it does not do — go beyond the exercise of a statutory obligation. It doesn’t take a qualified urban planner to concede that Mumbai’s two previous Development Plans completely failed to imagine a city where 60,000 taxis with no designated parking place would be on call via apps, or that plastic waste would clog Mumbai’s drains to catastrophic proportions, or that a Deonar dumping ground fire would rage for weeks.
In a self-perpetuating failure of planning, this DP makes scarce mention of sustainability. It fails to envision a city run on artificial intelligence, a Mumbai with driverless cars, of even electric cars, or even further agrarian distress and de-peasantisation of Mumbai’s immediate outback areas. What infrastructure demands would these entail? The current approach to Development Plan 2034 would fail to answer those questions.