Say goodbye to the Mumbai you know

There is one Mumbai that exists beyond your body and senses. It is tangible, and assails you daily. You can touch and taste it. There is another very substantial Mumbai. This one exists only on paper. But be aware, it portends to be real, very real. For this is the Mumbai, on which the Mumbai you will live in, in a couple of years shall be based.

Here’s the rub: there is a substantial mismatch between the two. Actually, 1200 mismatches and counting. This paper Mumbai (the soon to be real Mumbai) is the updated Existing Land Use (ELU) Plan of
Greater Mumbai.

This stark division between the two Mumbais was presented with great clarity by Pankaj Joshi, Director of the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), who on 26th September convened a meeting of urban experts, stakeholders, interested laypersons, and the press to discuss the Existing Land Use Plan.

Image courtesy Mustansir Dalvi.

This new mapping of the city, carried out by the MCGM, is to be the base for the revision of the Development Plan for Greater Mumbai, to be implemented from 2014. The new DP, as it is called, shall govern, administer and transform the city over the next two decades, until 2034. It seems to rest on a cornucopia of chimeras.

According to his reading of the ELU, more than 1200 plots of open land in Mumbai now have different land uses that no longer adhere to their al-fresco precedents. In the 'R' ward alone almost 200 open plots have been indicated as residential or commercial. By the simple expedient of comparing the new plan with current images of parts of the city on Google Earth(apart from using other, previous studies), the UDRI was able to spot several discrepancies between what currently exists (on
the ground) and what has been re-imagined by the ELU plan.

Here are some of the UDRI’s findings:

1. The city of Mumbai has increased by 2000 hectares.

2. Areas in Dharavi, Oshiwara, Airport, SEEPZ, BKC, Backbay, Gorai find no place on the ELU as they are governed by other independent authorities. Imagine your city being remade without considering localities, inherent to the image of changing Mumbai.

3. Several Ward boundaries have shifted, and along with them, presumably, their administrative jurisdictions.

4. The transportation systems that are mushrooming all around the city, that affect your daily commutes today and will transform your movements tomorrow- the Metro systems and the elevated rail lines
are not indicated on the Existing Land Use Plans at all.

5. Once open plots are marked as being 'under construction'.

6. Some No Development Zones (NDZ) are now marked as being residential or commercial in nature, opening the doors for developing such places that may be naturally sensitive or form the runoffs for rainwater. It is not difficult to imagine the consequences of building on them.

7. Mumbai has considerably unburdened itself of its ecology. Now there are 32% lesser mangroves, 60% lesser saltpans, and 80% lesser mudflats than before.

8. In spite of counting the beaches, gymkhana plots and forested lands, the open spaces in Mumbai now amount to 0.97 sq m per capita. This, when an ideal for open spaces in the city should be around 11sq m.

9. While some Heritage Buildings are marked, they are not Graded. This could affect precinct edges, buffers and skylines. Already we have seen several of Mumbai’s historic skylines that defined our image of the city for a century or so wantonly defaced by spiralling new erections. Interestingly, a heritage property like the Sir JJ School of Art is now indicated as a commercial plot, as is St Xavier’s College. A cemetery in Colaba is now a ‘water body’.

10. The Worli Fort, a site of archaeological importance and one of the oldest buildings in Mumbai, has gone missing from the ELU entirely. You may see it as you traverse the Sealink. You may even walk on it, but don’t you believe your eyes. No.

Here then, is an incomplete and flawed view of the Mumbai of the present. In the future, this ELU is what the authorities in the Municipal Corporation and the ward offices will base their decisions and permissions on. If transformations are to be effected using readings that do not square up with ground realities, urban planning, however well intentioned will not amount to much.

Pankaj Joshi told his audience of how difficult it was to get hold of the ELU. Not in the public domain, he had to extricate the documents from the authorities by invoking the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

This is symptomatic of the ways of the state these days. Either by their own resources or by outsourcing these studies to various consultants and planners, the information gathered and the documents generated from them are increasingly held back. The citizens at large shall only experience the consequences slowly, over time, as the new Development Plan gets implemented. Consider this: the previous Development Plan was published in 1981, but sanctioned for implementation only in 1993, twelve years after.

The need for transparency is even more acute, considering the numbers of discrepancies noticed on the ELU. These Plans should have been put out before the public as soon as they were generated and opinions should have been called for. This adversarial stance between the authorities and those genuinely interested citizen groups and urban experts outside of the government is completely uncalled for. It is anybody’s guess whether corrective action will be taken before the new Development Control Rules become fait accompli.

In the meanwhile, to misquote Uncle Eliot:

This is the way the city ends.

This is the way the city ends.

This is the way the city ends.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Updated Date: Oct 03, 2012 10:53 AM

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