Rebuilding old cities

More and safer houses. That’s what most of India’s old but developed cities need urgently today.

Written by Anshumali Ruparel | Published:March 14, 2009 12:28 am

More and safer houses. That’s what most of India’s old but developed cities need urgently today. While the suburbs and outskirts are being developed,in the densely populated older but central areas people carry on living in houses that could collapse any time. While repair would be inadequate,redevelopment is an option suitable for all. A recent verdict by the Supreme Court has cleared the way for redevelopment projects to proceed. While Mumbai has taken the lead,sooner or later most other tier-I and many fast-developing tier-II cities are also expected to clamber on to the redevelopment bandwagon.

THE GENESIS

When a family has resided in an area for decades,and their house is situated close to the workplace,market,schools and other amenities,it is nearly impossible for them to move out to the suburbs. One finds large families crammed into small spaces in the old areas of cities such as Mumbai,Chennai,Hyderabad,Lucknow,and Ahmedabad. Most of these old structures are tenanted. Neither the tenants nor the landlords seem to be interested in maintenance. The housing arms of several state governments took up the task of repairing these structures. However,these efforts proved inadequate given the sheer magnitude of the problem. The concept of redevelopment was introduced about 15 years ago in Mumbai. It found many takers as the growth of the local population and influx of immigrants have created an acute housing shortage.

HOW IT WORKS

The private developer approaches the landlord or the society and its occupants. The occupants get more space; the landlord too gets additional space or monetary compensation,or sometimes both. The society also gets a corpus fund to meet maintenance needs after redevelopment. The redeveloper shifts the occupants to an alternative place and pays the rent for the entire period. The occupants are then rehabilitated in the new structure. The redeveloper gets to construct more floors with the higher floor space index (FSI). In case of Mumbai,under Development Control Regulation (DCR)-33 (7) he gets,besides the permitted FSI,extra FSI equal to the space he has consumed in rehabilitating the old residents. He is allowed to sell this extra space in the market at the current price. Given Mumbai’s high property prices,he makes a profit despite the high costs involved.

One of the benefits of redevelopment is that the lifestyle of old residents improves as they receive better,larger and safer spaces at no cost. The quality of the neighbourhood improves. New housing stock becomes available to new home seekers. More supply has a dampening effect on prices. The belief that “you can never get a place in south Mumbai” has been belied,thanks to redevelopment.

WHY THEY DON’T WANT IT

Redevelopment has a flip side as well. With hundreds of towers coming up in narrow lanes of already congested localities,it leads to problems such as traffic congestion,pollution,water shortage,clogged drains and water logging. As the profile of the new occupants who move in is more upmarket,it leads to social conflict. There have also been complaints that to make money developers have pulled down buildings that were in good shape and subjected the residents to unnecessary hardship by shifting them. According to concerned citizens,unplanned and haphazard redevelopment has become a threat to the city’s already stressed infrastructure.

LEGAL BATTLES

After series of legal contentions,the Supreme Court gave a verdict allowing redevelopment of all pre-1940 buildings. A two-bench judgement upheld the DCR and set aside the restrictions imposed by Bombay High Court. The apex court also struck down the power of MHADA and repair Boards to give certification to old buildings. While validating the DCR,the apex court observed: “It is clear that the policy (of the state government) seeks to enhance the quality of lives of those living in very poor conditions by increasing the living space to merely double. This is to be contrasted with the need to give a better lifestyle to those who can afford it. If such people have to undergo some hardship,the policy can not be faulted especially when they constitute a minority.”

THE OUTCOME

As age of the building becomes the criterion,all buildings built before 1940 (category-A) can be pulled down,irrespective of whether they are dilapidated or not. No certificate is required. Consent of the landowner and 70 per cent of occupants is required to begin redevelopment. In the next five to seven years,hundreds of new towers are expected to mushroom in the island city. It is expected that residents and landlords will demand more free space and compensation from redevelopers. Developers,in turn,will try to exploit every inch of the plot to recover their costs. It is feared that new towers may mushrooms very close to each other as the restriction of minimum clearance of 3.6 metres imposed by Bombay High court has also been set aside. This may in turn create problems of light and ventilation. While the new towers will bring in additional housing stock into the market,prices may not correct as demand is expected to outstrip supply.

INFRASTRUCTURE WORRIES

One of the fears expressed by activists and concerned citizens is that mushrooming towers will increase density of population,putting excess pressure on infrastructure. When the 20 lakh people living at present in the 16,000 plus buildings built before 1940 are rehabilitated along with several lakh new inhabitants,the area infrastructure may prove inadequate. Moreover,the DCR-33 (7) does not place the onus on the redeveloper to create infrastructure. Shirish Patel,a structural engineer and the petitioner in Bombay High Court,says,“The said DCR will sound the death knell of heritage structures as the only criterion for demolishing is age of the building and not its value.”

The redeveloper fraternity,however,argues that the setback that has been stipulated will lead to widening of roads. In-house parking will allow more cars to be accommodated. They say that the municipality would work on improving water supply and drainage. And redevelopers themselves will have to ensure good infrastructure so that their properties fetch a good price.

WHAT’S UP?

Due to sluggish market conditions and a cash crunch in the realty sector,very few redevelopment projects are taking off. Most incomplete projects are inching towards completion while hundreds of old buildings await their turn. The general elections may delay the process a bit,but eventually redevelopment will speed up as it offers the only solution to a space-starved city. On the one hand,there is hope that residents will get better and safer living spaces in new structures,and on the other,there is fear of an impending infrastructure crisis. In the coming years,Mumbai will be the crucible where the concept of redevelopment will be tested. On its outcome will depend whether more cities in India adopt it as a way of reviving their central areas.

anshumali.ruparel@expressindia.com

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