The Union government has formed a panel to look into the upward revision of Floor Space Index (FSI) norms in all major cities in the country. Such a revision, if implemented by urban local bodies, would lead to an increase in the number of high-rises in Indian cities, where building bye-laws have until now imposed height restrictions.
Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri has issued orders to form a committee of ministry officials and external experts.
FSI, also known as Floor Area Ratio (FAR), is the extent of buildable area allowed on any given plot. For instance, if a building project is given an FSI of 1.5, it means that on a 10,000 sq mt plot, the construction can be up to 15,000 sq m, thus allowing it to go vertical.
A ministry official said, “The aim is to rationalise FSI. Cities have a choice of going up or spreading out; the only way to decongest urban sprawls is by letting buildings go higher. Once the panel drafts its report, there will be wider consultations.”
The ministry has asked urban local bodies of the seven major cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad — to submit a report within the next 10 days on their existing FSI norms and usage. Any policy on enhancing the FSI, that flows from the committee report, will depend on whether the urban local body wants to implement the recommendations.
Immediately after taking office in September last year, Puri had, in a meeting of state-level officials, asked for a time-bound review of FSI norms so as to promote compact, vertical urban growth and to meet the demand for affordable housing under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban).
The decision is based on a 2017 NITI Aayog report that said that paucity of land can be “countered by expanding space vertically through the construction of taller buildings”. It said that the permitted FSI in Indian cities is low – in the range of 1 to 1.5. The report also noted that when cities have allowed high-rise buildings in the recent past, it has usually done so in the peripheral regions rather than in the centre of the city. “The result is a shortage of space in the central business district, which is then reserved for commercial use only. With residential units thus pushed exclusively to the periphery, this FSI pattern leads to heavy burden on the transportation system,” the report states, adding that Delhi is a case in point.
The NITI Aayog report also compares the case of Mumbai and Shanghai to illustrate how the latter, through a liberal FSI regime created more per capita space. Real estate groups, including the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) have been making a case for easing of FSI restriction which would allow builders to construct more on the same piece of land by going vertically higher. They cite the example of cities such as New York, Chicago, and Tokyo which exceed the average FSI of Indian cities by 12 to 20 times.
However, urban experts have opposed the idea of high-rises on the ground that Indian cities already have the highest population densities in the world and further densification would be a further strain on infrastructure. According to Demographia World Urban Areas (2017) report, Mumbai, which has the maximum high-rises in the country, is the world’s fourth densest city with 26,000 people per sq km. Delhi NCR, with a low-rise Delhi and highrise Noida-Gurgaon, stands 123 on the density scale. In comparison, Shanghai is place 423rd while Tokyo (632), New York (944), Chicago (965) have even lower population densities as also more green open spaces.
Debolina Kundu, Associate Professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs, points out that liberalising supply of real estate space through higher FSI doesn’t necessarily translate into creation of affordable housing as developers often try to maximise profits by constructing houses for the higher income groups.
“It has never happened that affordable housing is created from higher FSI,” she said. Kundu added that the NITI Aayog report, however, does make a point that increasing FSI in peripheral areas, instead of allowing compact settlements within the city, adds to vehicular congestion as it leads to people travelling long distances to their workplace. “Any increase in FSI should be preceded by creation of basic infrastructure such as water supply, roads, and public transport,” she added.