The new development plan should take a ‘holistic view’

Mon, 2015-08-31 10:15 -- SCC India Staff

Niranjan Hiranandani, Managing Director of the Hiranandani Group

As per the Maharashtra Region and Town Planning Act, every municipal corporation must prepare a development plan to be implemented over 20 years. The last time a development plan was prepared for Mumbai was way back in 1981 and it was adopted 13 years later in 1994. So, a new development plan, which would be valid for 20 years, needed to be prepared and ratified by 2014, to be in force till 2034. The existing development plan for Mumbai defines land reservations: That is, land that is set aside for a specific public purpose, amenities, transportation networks and services through a coloured land-use map of the entire city. When we consider the draft development plan, which was placed on a public platform for comments and suggestions, what comes through clearly is that it is at best, a tweaking of the old plan with very little to write home about.

The Mumbai Development Plan 2034, an urban planning blueprint released on February 16, was strongly opposed by citizens, including politicians and actors. Its critics said the plan left out hundreds of iconic structures from the list of heritage buildings and ignored ground realities of the city.

When we talk about Development Plans for a megalopolis like Mumbai, especially given its status as a global finance centre as also India’s commercial capital, it has to have the ‘big bang’ aspect – it has to come up with path-breaking new initiatives, plug some gaps that the city has been suffering from for long, create something new that is ‘iconic’.

People’s participation happened through the large Social Media outpourings. The architects, town planners and activists who panned the draft described the plan as ‘irrelevant to the needs and aspirations of Mumbai’s residents’. The proposed increase in the Floor Space Index, which would allow taller buildings in some parts of the city and suburbs was also panned on Social Media. From its side, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said the draft was made professionally, to achieve the goals of ‘growth, inclusiveness and sustainability’.

The question that we need to answer, as stake holders in Mumbai’s future, is how do we ensure that the new DP achieves the goals of ‘growth, inclusiveness and sustainability’? When the Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis asked for the draft DP to be revised, many thought it was just a knee-jerk reaction. With the state cabinet granting an extension to the process of re-drafting the draft DP by another six months in August this year, it would appear that the ramifications of what needs to be done has been understood; and the required time-frame granted.

The state government has recognised that there were too many mistakes in the draft DP and that it not only needed to be reconsidered but actually redone. One has to remember that the DP is for 20 long years. It is not only about FSI which can be increased or fungible FSI or TDR, but the fact is that Mumbai requires a good plan with vision and planned infrastructure which has not happened. The DP needs to be clear about how and for what purpose it plans to use the FSI – also, its cost is an important aspect. Let me illustrate with an example: the pricing of FSI has been so flawed that no one can buy a flat costing Rs 10,000 per sq ft in the last suburbs of Mumbai, be it Borivali – Dahisar or Bhandup - Mulund.  I hope the new DP will find ways to sort this out; housing shortage is a crisis that needs to be solved at the earliest.

Every city in the world has some great things. When we were under the British, the city got its railways, airport, port, iconic structures like the Bombay High Court, the Gateway of India and so many beautiful buildings in south Bombay which are now heritage. What is our vision for Mumbai, and will it be reflected in the draft DP? I hope that the draft DP will have a vision for Mumbai – greater and better – that it will take cognisance for affordable housing in the new plan.

Sometimes, we miss the wood for the trees. My perspective is: why does this have to be a just a ‘plan’, with number-crunching and data sorting being the primary goals. Why should it not be a ‘vision document’ with a holistic perspective, laying the foundation for a better life for Mumbai’s citizens?

While on one hand, Mumbai needs to grow vertically, the growth also needs to be supported by infrastructure development to make it sustainable. I hope the new DP will be positive for both aspects: first, basic necessities for a future-ready Mumbai need to be provided for and second, having done that, the DP needs to go beyond the basics, to from ‘basic living standards’ to ‘enhanced lifestyles’. If Mumbai has to become a Global Finance Centre, I expect the ‘vision document’ to be ‘future ready’ and in sync with Mumbai’s residents – it should have the far sightedness to spot and plan for changing trends. The ‘vision document’ must be propelled by the drive to meet expectations and enhance living standards of citizens, to positively change the skyline of the city.

I hope the recall and subsequent overhaul of the development plan will ensure a more systematic approach towards making Mumbai a world class financial hub. If the plan is being made for the next 20 years, it requires far more attention to details and ground realities than just the arithmetic of the plan.

As I see it, this is probably the last DP for Mumbai I may see in my lifetime, and I hope it is something that befits this great megalopolis.

About the Author: Niranjan Hiranandani, Managing Director of the Hiranandani Group, is arguably, India's 'Builder Extraordinaire'. Academically, qualified as a Chartered Accountant, is more prominently known as a business leader with the desire to rewrite India's real estate story. In the past, he has served as a key person in select government and private bodies with focus on real estate & infrastructure like – HUDCO, FICCI and IMC. Today, the Hiranandani Brand is synonymous to Quality, Timely Completion of Projects and Total Township Development.