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A city plan with a tunnel vision

The draft development plan for the city for 2014-34 overlooks most crucial aspects such as slums and has already missed its deadlines,say Sharvari Patwa & Alison Saldanha

Written by Alison Saldanha |
October 9, 2013 5:37:44 am

Mumbai’s hopes of more playgrounds,schools,hospitals,markets and gardens,as well as wider and de-congested roads,parking spaces,better civic amenities and housing in the future will be pinned on the development plan (DP) of the city,a blueprint for developing the city over the next 20 years in which land is reserved for various purposes as per the needs of citizens.

The DP for the period 2014-34 is currently being drafted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Already delayed for over two years,the draft DP is likely to be delayed further by another year. While the earlier draft was to be submitted in June 2011,the new deadline is December 2013.

First,the appointment of the firm to draft the plan was delayed. Later,the work could not take off as the appointed consortium of French and Indian companies,Group SCE Limited,expressed its desire to withdraw citing financial constraints. After deliberations,an agreement was signed on April 20,2011,over two years after the letter of intent was issued and more than four months after the standing committee approved the Rs 4.5-crore contract.

This has led some to wonder if the process was being expedited by skipping important elements. “Earlier,consultants had said they are unable to sustain the project financially. How was a consensus reached later then? Is the DP being compromised on some terms,” BJP corporator Manoj Kotak says.

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Besides,the draft DP has ignored several crucial aspects,most important among them being a detailed mapping of Mumbai’s slums,which are home to 60 per cent of the city’s population. In its draft plan,the BMC has only put large grey blotches on the existing land use maps. This despite the fact that the civic body had,while inviting expressions of interest (EOI) to shortlist consultants for the DP,proposed “compiling data on real estate trends including housing and slums related to public policies”. It had also stated that 50.4 per cent of the city’s population “lives in slums and it is proposed to reduce the slum population to about 14 per cent by 2031”.

“The total population living in slums is proposed to be reduced from 64.6 lakh to 25.2 lakh,” it stated.

“BMC’s existing land use maps have shown slums as grey areas with a red boundary. It is a highly problematic notion as one cannot mark slums as a homogenous cluster. A Dharavi slum is very different from Shivaji Nagar slums. One must also map schools,maternity homes,amenities etc in the slums,” says Pankaj Joshi,executive director of Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI),an urban planning institute.

Mapping slums in the context of their residential composition,industrial units,small-scale industries,number of children,number of working residents etc is important to plan for the future,say experts.

The BMC has also excluded Special Planning Agencies (SPAs) and areas that come under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) from its mapping exercise. Areas such as Dharavi,Oshiwara,SEEPZ,Backbay etc have been left out.

According to estimates,leaving out such areas means that of the total 457 square kilometres that the city sprawls over,around 19 square kilometres have not been factored in.

Experts point out this is not the first time that the BMC has failed to factor in slums. “We had not undertaken any slum mapping in the previous DP of 1991 either,” says a senior civic official involved in the preparation of the draft DP. In fact,BMC website itself says,“Use of structures falling within slum clusters have not been reflected in the existing land use (ELU) as a detailed survey of slum clusters was not envisaged.”

The BMC has a notorious record as far as implementing DPs in the past is concerned. Estimates suggest only about 15 per cent of the total plan in the previous DP was implemented over the past two decades. A senior state official says DPs are passed ridiculously late,often several years after the deadline. “A city’s character may have changed completely by the time it is finally approved,” officials say.

Mumbai’s first DP of 1967 took 10 years to prepare while the second DP was finalised in 1991,seven years after the process commenced.

Previous Plans

The first DP was adopted in 1967 and was superseded by the revised DP in 1994. The preparation of 1994-2014 DP commenced in 1977 and it was finally adopted in 1994. This plan is now under revision by the BMC for creating the third DP for 2014-2034.

During the period in which the first two DPs were in effect,the city’s population has more than doubled,from 59.7 lakh in 1971 to 1.24 crore in 2011,according to Census figures.

As per estimates given by former municipal commissioner Jayraj Phatak,only 12 per cent of the plans have been implemented to date since the first DP came about 50 years ago.

Lack of Public Participation

A major flaw in the DP process has been the lack of public participation since little priority was accorded to it. Citizen groups that are now actively campaigning for public involvement in the planning claim previous plans simply served the interests of private developers and businesses.

“If people were involved in preparation of DPs,these would have seen better implementation. The planning has always included builders,architects and allied interests,but the actual stakeholders remain outside the loop and are often at the receiving end of such projects. Any planning has to be inclusive of all economic and social groups,and not merely serve the middle class,as more and more people are losing opportunity and access to high-cost development,” Joshi says.

In 2008,activist groups,NGOs and urban planners,in a bid to alter the BMC’s top-down approach for planning,began rallying people to push for more involvement in the planning process.

Under the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning (MRTP) Act of 1966,it is mandatory to engage the general public in the draft preparation. Activists,however,say the administration holds consultations with the public only after the draft plan is ready for implementation.

In 2010,three former municipal commissioners,D M Sukhtankar,Jamshed Kanga and Sharad Kale,even wrote to the then civic chief Swadheen Kshatriya,demanding more public involvement in the drafting process so that it is “truly a democratic plan,which is able to fulfill their current and future needs as well as their aspirations”.

‘Mumbai DP24x7’,a campaign spearheaded by the UDRI,sought to increase public awareness and participation. Since 2009,over 250 NGOs and individuals have lent their support to it.

“When a city is being planned,the authorities must take into account the needs and wants of its citizens as the plan is very closely connected to their daily lives. For instance,in London,before a development plan is initiated by the government,a baseline survey is conducted to see what are the concerns of the citizens,” says Aravind Unni,an architect with YUVA,an NGO that has backed the UDRI initiative.

Public Pressure

Finally,on account of sustained public pressure,the corporation in 2012 changed the process to allow more public involvement in the planning. The BMC has also agreed to Joshi’s proposal to hold free workshops in partnership with citizens groups at BMC ward offices or schools to ensure more ground-level public involvement.

Yet,existing land use ( ELU) maps,prepared as part of the planning schedule,remain out of reach for the public. After accessing these maps under the Right to Information Act,UDRI found 1,200 discrepancies in the reservation markings when compared with the current 1994 DP’s land reservations. It also found that the city had increased by 20 kms while natural features such as salt pans and mangroves had considerably shrunk in the last two decades.

UDRI has pointed out that the markings showed a 32.85 per cent loss of mangrove areas in the suburbs as compared to the 5,716 hectares marked in the Maharashtra Wetland Atlas for the same area. Likewise,it highlighted a 59.09 per cent loss in salt pan land and a 79.80 per cent loss in salt marshes and mud flats in the maps.

Playgrounds,recreation grounds,parks,gardens and swimming pools,as per ELU calculations,is about 1228.6 hectares,less than half the space mapped out in 2007 (2,318 hectares) by UDRI in a study. Moreover,ELU markings fail to classify spaces as available for public or private use.

Further discrepancies were also identified in the ELU,that indiscriminately marks 3,422 hectares as slum areas. These markings spill over mud flats and mangroves and exclude livelihood activities and cultural centres here.

Apart from excluding heritage properties,the maps also failed to recognise gaothans and koliwadas,the residences of the original inhabitants of the city. Most of these areas have either been marked as slums and vacant lands or left unclassified. Similarly,hawkers,estimated to account for three per cent of the city’s population,and many informal markets remain unacknowledged in the ELU.

Activists say this is to allow developers to usurp the area in the future for commercial purposes.

Kiran Koli,president of Mumbai Machhimar Kruti Samiti,says,“We would not mind if they reserve this land for an educational or health institution to benefit the community,but it looks like the survey and plan will cater mostly to the building community.”

After a number of deadline extensions for submitting suggestions/objections,by March 31,2013,the civic body had received about 4,000 responses from people across Mumbai. Meanwhile,in its ELU survey comments,the civic body has acknowledged barely eight per cent of the mistakes.

The Way Forward

Urban planners believe there are some steps the BMC must take for a smoother DP planning process. “The BMC has to make clear as to why it is undertaking such a revision of the plan,what it wants to offer to the city,who are the stakeholders it plans to primarily focus on?” says Joshi.

The corporation has to adopt a public-friendly approach and not shroud the planning process in secrecy. “As per the RTI Act,there should be full disclosure on everything that affects public life. Opening up the ELU for public scrutiny and comments was a step forward. Rather than taking an adversarial position,the BMC should encourage public participation,” says Joshi.

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