The state government has finally issued orders to reconstitute the high-rise panel for all proposed buildings in Mumbai that are over 70 metres high, as well as to expand the ambit of its functioning.
The orders issued by the state urban development department for setting up a panel under the chairmanship of Justice P S Patankar, former Judge of the Bombay High Court, has come in six months late, despite a Supreme Court (SC) ruling in December 2013 directing the state government to do so within a month.
The panel will be in charge of screening all proposals for high-rise buildings in the city that are more than 70 metres in height as well as where the slenderness ratio, that is the ratio of the minimum width of the building to its height, is more than 1:9. As per the SC directive, the panel will have two additional functions, one of which is to make recommendations to the state government for the twenty-year Development Plan that is presently being drafted for Mumbai. The scope of the panel has also been expanded to allow it to attend to any kind of grievances pertaining to redevelopment of cessed buildings (under Development Control Rules (DCR) 33 /7), housing for dishoused (DCR 33/8), Cluster redevelopment schemes (DCR 33/9) and Slum Redevelopment Schemes (DCR 33/10).
The directive for reconstituting the high-rise panel was issued by the SC while hearing a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) petition against the commercial real estate project by Kohinoor CTNL Infrastructure Company in Dadar. It was the same case wherein the apex court significantly ruled that the compulsory open spaces have to be provided at the ground level of a building in addition to mandating six-metre wide side open spaces for safety reasons. The ruling had forced hundreds of projects to go back to the drawing board.
“In addition to ensuring that the SC orders on open spaces are adhered to in every project, the panel will also screen projects by looking at the carrying capacity, existing infrastructure and corelation with the traffic situation. Until now, projects were been approved by examining at the proposed structure independently,” said one of the panel members, adding that the SC has asked for these basic guarantees under the right to life.
Apart from a new chairman, the reconstituted panel will continue to have many of the older members, including the chief engineer of the BMC’s Development Plan Department, the Chief Fire Officer of BMC, Professor R S Jangid from the Department of Civil Engineering at IIT Bombay as a structural engineering expert, Professor Abhay Bambole who is the head of the Structural Engineering Department at VJIT as the soil and geotechnical expert and Rakesh Kumar, head of NEERI Regional Centre as the environmental expert. To include an urban planning perspective, as per the SC order, Pankaj Joshi, from the Urban Design Research Institute, has been included as an additional member.
The high-rise panel was first formed in July 2004 and since then its working has been riddled with controversies for approving several pencil-thin structures with little consideration on the strain on infrastructure, provision of ample open spaces or ensuring safety standards.