There is a need for people to be aware of fire safety: Mumbai Municipal Commissionerhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/there-is-a-need-for-people-to-be-aware-of-fire-safety-mumbai-municipal-commissioner-ajoy-mehta-5516258/

There is a need for people to be aware of fire safety: Mumbai Municipal Commissioner

Mumbai Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta sums up the eventful year, talks about lessons learned and discusses his plans for better roads, flood-free monsoon, the coastal road and Mumbai’s transforming cityscape in 2019 with The Indian Express.

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Ajoy Mehta

(Written by Sanjana Bhalerao and Laxman Singh)

Like the Kamala Mills fire in 2017, 2018, too, ended on a grim note in Mumbai with fires claiming 19 lives in its concluding month.

One year after the Kamala Mills tragedy what lessons has the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation learned? What is the current status of the inquiry against officers?

We have learnt three important lessons from the Kamala Mills incident. We have come up with the idea of a ‘compliance cell’ to check violations. Initially, establishments remain as per the sanctioned plan. But later, in many cases, they carry out alterations or additions. Therefore, a compliance cell has been formed to inspect such commercial units. Second most important thing is, there is a crying need for people to be aware of fire safety. Fire prevention is not just for the fire brigade, it is also for you to prevent. You as a resident also ensure that your houses are safe. Third thing is, now among people there is awareness to check whether they are in a fire-safe place.
We have issued notices to nine officers found guilty by a departmental inquiry. Another report on two ward officers’ role in the tragedy is almost ready and expected soon. Also, the report on violations related to FSI and IT offices is in the final stage.

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In 2016, commenting on the state of roads and footpaths, you said, “Cannot take parents for a walk in the city”. Two years later, the pedestrian policy is still stuck for final approval. Why is the BMC not approving the policy? By when can citizens expect good roads and footpaths in the city?

We have selected a few areas where the footfall is the highest in the city, especially areas next to railway stations and markets, where we are laying emphasis and the footpaths will be maintained in absolutely walkable condition. The second problem we find is, there are utilities running below many footpaths, so whenever these utilities were to be re-laid the footpaths were dug up. We had a policy under which until the work is completed, footpath reinstation was not taken up. We changed that. Now as the utility re-laying is completed even if it is 100-metre work, footpath reinstation of that patch will immediately begin. Third, we are concretising the footpaths and removing the paver blocks, where it has become uneven. Fourth, in the last two years, we have removed encroachments. There is a huge effort to make footpaths walkable. The problem we are facing with the implementation of the policy is the civic body doesn’t have commercial PAPs, so where do I shift these old legal shops which are on footpaths, as per the pedestrian policy?

How does the BMC propose to tackle the opposition that the coastal road project is facing? Not just fishermen, but also people who have suddenly found their promenades barricaded are unhappy.

In a democracy, the expression of views will continue. You cannot say you were allowed to give opinion only till today and now you are not allowed. You have to let people express their views and you have to accommodate what can be accommodated. There are certain things which cannot be accommodated and we are apologising for that and giving reasons. We are conducting discussions with fishermen and we told them that the project was studied for over two-and-a-half years. We have asked them to look at our studies and use whatever can be used and tell us what more can we do for them. We don’t want them to suffer. But please keep an open mind and let technical minds make a conclusion.

In the past two years, the city has faced an unprecedented amount of rainfall. By your own admission on various platforms, you have said the city is witnessing the same amount of rainfall in lesser number of days which was earlier spread over three-four months. What is the administration doing for a flood-free Mumbai following the change in rainfall pattern?

One thing we have done is to look beyond our initial reports – Brimstowad, the Chitale committee reports, when Mumbai was something else. Other than the change in rainfall pattern, Mumbai’s built-up area has increased, concretisation has blocked natural pathways of water, the absorption capacity of soil has changed. The natural slope is disturbed. Thus we are looking at localised flooding, areas which didn’t flood earlier and prepared a different plan of action for each. We identified over 225 localised flooding spots and it yielded results last monsoon. When the natural ways are altered, we have to look for mechanical solutions.

In the road scam that indicted civic engineers and contractors, the administration has been saying that Rs 1,000 crore will be recovered from the contractors. How is the BMC planning to recover the amount and how much money has been recovered?

There are two parts to the scam and the recovery – one is criminal liability, for which we undertook an inquiry, filed cases against those found guilty including civic officials. On civil liability front, we first have to settle the criminal liability case and then move ahead. The case against contractors is pending at the judicial level. For example, suppose you took away my pen which costs Rs 25, the criminal liability is limited to Rs 25, but because of that I cannot sign my coastal highway project today because of which the corporation is going to lose Rs 500 crore; the civil liability is Rs 500 crore which the corporation will recover.

You’ve said earlier that the last budget (2018-19) for the first time marries the DP with budgetary allocations and planning. A year later, is there any data on how much work on this has progressed, or have the delays in the passing of the DP derailed this plan?

I would not say the DP has been delayed. This is the first time it was completed so fast, it has been 2-2.5 years and we are nearing completion. Development Control and Promotions Regulation (DCPR) is already done and approved. We did two things, first, we pulled out things which needed to be completed since 1991 DP and started sanctioning them. I still have 70 percent of 1991 DP that needs to be completed. Second, we involved wards and asked what they need, either a dispensary, school, gardens and approved it.

With more and more highrises built in the city, how does the civic body plan to handle the pressure on civic infrastructure in the coming years other than the changes in Development Plan?

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TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) is linked to road width in the new Development Plan. In 9-metre wide road, you can load the lowest TDR. One very big game-changing decision that we have taken this time in DCPR is, we have allowed fluidity into the TDR. Earlier, it was only allowed to move north, now the builder can load it anywhere in the city given he/she links to the Stamp Duty Ready Reckoner (SDRR) rate. So suppose, the TDR generated in Fort area is one, the builder can take it to Borivali and get five times bigger space. We have also evenly distributed the commercial reservation across the city and not limited to already overcrowded belts like Parel and connected it to the accessibility especially with coastal road and the Metro coming up.