Navi Mumbai was Charles Correa's dream: Here's how it turned into a nightmare

Encomiums poured in for legendary architect Charles Correa following his death, and rightly so. His many stunning creations were discussed once over again and his genius marveled at. However, amid all this, we perhaps forgot the plight of one of his dreams  - Navi Mumbai.

Correa conceived the idea of Navi Mumbai and envisaged it to be one of the world's biggest and greatest cities. However, the way the city, initially meant to decongest Mumbai, has shaped up convinces me that it is anything but what Correa intended it to be. Navi Mumbai was built by CIDCO and Correa was it's chief architect for five years. Later, reportedly, other forces took over.

Anil Dharkar, Correa's friend, writing in The Indian Express, didn't mince words on how disappointing Navi Mumbai was: “He knew it had failed in its main objective, and admitted it ruefully; the failure was not of the planners was a result of political will.”

At an Hindustan Times awards event, Correa had said, “Market forces do not make a city, they destroy them. It is as true of Mumbai as it is for Navi Mumbai.

Correa had said that the initial proposal of shifting the Mantralaya and other such important offices to Navi Mumbai would have helped decongest Mumabi and turn Navi Mumbai into a biz hub in itself. However, with government's refusing to do so later, Navi Mumbai failed to serve the purpose it was built for. For the first three decades of it being built, Navi Mumbai failed to populate itself. And it just crossed the halfway mark of the 2 million population it was supposed to have.

Charles Correa. AFP.

Charles Correa. AFP.

As Navi Mumbai struggles to find takers, Mumbai reels under burgeoning population, bad management and expensive infrastructure.

Often the tall towers in the nodes of Navi Mumbai are mistakenly considered the marker's of the success of Navi Mumbai, but the city's story lies elsewhere. The objective of building a central business district (CBD) in Belapur was defeated because in the absence of internal transport, Vashi, closest to Mumbai across a creek, found patronage. At the time when people started moving to Navi Mumbai, one shower would result in ankle deep slush. share taxis were the only means to get to Mumbai, trains too came much later.

Ulwe, the other spot initially intended to be a business centre is also far behind in terms of development and the entire project area of Navi Mumbai has not been municipalised. Only a part of it has been – 108 sq km of the total project area of which useable area is 344 sq km, as the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation. Though authorities pride themselves on directly municipalising gram panchayats, it is only a half-truth. The gram panchayats were neglected while the nodes were attended to, and the result is horrible villages which need redevelopment.

As the nodes got developed, slums started coming up in gram panchayats. Over a third of the population of the municipalised Navi Mumbai lives in slums. Villages which became home to poor immigrants, who worked in Mumbai but couldn't afford to live there, turned into slums. At some places in Navi Mumbai, it's difficult to tell a village from a slum.

CIDCO’s claim that the city provides “quality housing for every stratum of society” and offers “reasonably priced commercial and residential real estate”, to say the least, is laughable. After the CIDCO was done with distributing land at low price to many years back to lure people to Navi Mumbai it started auctioning plots in the '90s. This sent real estate prices skyrocketing and didn't quite leave 'reasonably priced'.

In her book titled Making of Navi Mumbai (Orient Blackswan), Annapurna Shaw tells the sordid story. By mid-1990s, there were more people in the city’s slums than there were in the villages around it. These villages were incorporated into the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC). By then, villages had begun to take shape of slums, by the unplanned construction, overcrowding within.

Navi Mumbai builders lost the plot – literally and figuratively – long ago, and so quality conscious it has been that the initial low-cost housing promoted by CIDCO were ready for redevelopment; many were ready to crumble.

This surely was not the city Correa envisaged when he persuaded the Maharashtra government that a new city, planned from scratch, was essential to take the pressure off Mumbai. He even worked on it for five years as its chief architect. Even within the municipalised area, as Shaw wrote, there is a vast unplanned use of land, defeating the purpose of a planned city. The story in the yet-to-be-municipalised area of a slowly being built city is no different.


Updated Date: Jun 18, 2015 20:57 PM

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