Decongesting Mumbai: Loopholes remain in building height-road width formula

Mumbai: Mumbai has three kinds of congestion. One is the overall overcrowding with populations having crossed its carrying capacity in 1991 itself. The other is the newer additions to already congested areas where redevelopment is taken up. The civic body estimates the first would decline by a million in about 18 years.
The second kind of congestion has been loaded on the city where by the redevelopment norms, a plot on which an old building stands can be built upon, spaces created to give for free the inhabitants of that old building, add more space to recover the cost of the free and then some profit – or profiteering – by selling them.

Space crunch in Mumbai. Reuters

Space crunch in Mumbai. Reuters

The third is the daytime congestion when half the working force – this is only guestimate – comes from outside the civic limits of Mumbai. They are the residents of the dormitories we call cities and towns within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region – Thane, Navi Mumbai, Kalyan, Vasai-Virar, Mira-Bhayandar et al. Unless they find livelihoods locally, Mumbai would need them.

In the latter model, where FSI norms alone matter but are fudged or when fudged are winked at by the authorities, the builder literally attempts to touch the skies. In doing so, so much of population is added that the existing congestion worsens. There are any number of such examples – just walk around Girgaon but leave your car elsewhere; there would be no space to park it.

Now Mumbai’s city government is toying with idea of restricting the heights of the buildings in relation to the road which serves it. For, that would be an algorithm leaving no room for manipulation or discretion which means you know what. It is hardly an epitome of honesty.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has indicated that its draft control rules could “link construction of a skyscraper to the width of the adjoining road — so, narrower the road, lesser the vertical limit for buildings in the vicinity and vice versa”, as reported by The Indian Express.

But the game is already on, between the city’s well-wishers, which is not the city government but activists, the civic body and the developers. It says, “But the developers are complaining that the proposed regulation will adversely impact redevelopment projects especially in congested areas in the island city and the suburbs”.

How illogical is the whine is patent from one single point – it would hurt redevelopment in “congested areas”. If the MCGM is firm on the policy and executed it with honesty, it would be to prevent worsening the congestion in such areas, and adding newer burdens to other areas where redevelopment hasn’t commenced.

It is a matter of surprise that this idea didn’t strike the policy-makers earlier, for, say, letting towers scraping the sky coming up in the place of a chawl, say, in Girgaon, would add not only to the present tight public spaces which include roads and footpaths, but strain the other services, water and drains. But it doesn’t matter to a builder – he only wants to sell and move on. Residents have to suffer.

Now, as long as the FSI requirements are met, and perhaps violations winked at, a building can be of any height as long as the adjacent road is nine metres wide, which many main roads are, and are congested already. The mistake in the new likely policy would be that by height and FSI used up would have a bearing on the plot size.

Smaller the plot of a chawl of a chawl-like building, and larger the apartment sizes they are mandated to be as given by the redeveloper, they are likely to get higher and higher. Mere restriction of heights would not solve the problems. It should be the space created. There is some intricate math involved in it which the builders like to fudge and the authorities succumb to.

The indiscriminate redevelopment without attending to the general area in which they are taken up has messed up Mumbai. People around newly redeveloped buildings complain of water shortages. Fortunately, at least as of yet, there are no complaints yet about the backing up of the muck in the toilet because drain pipes too haven’t been significantly improved.

About the larger pan-Mumbai congestion, the civic chief, Ajoy Mehta has taken heart in the statistics thrown up by the 2011 Census which indicated a decadal rise of only 3.87 percent. It is a spectacular drop given that previous successive decades had seen double digit growth rates. However, when seen in the context of the slum populations’ steep decline shown in the 2011 Census, makes the statistics suspect.

This so, especially when Mumbai’s slum rehabilitation scheme hasn’t worked well with only a fraction rehabilitated. The idea behind the SRA was to rehabilitate all of them. In nearly two decades since its initiation, barely one and a half lakh slum dwellers have been rehabilitated. Only about 100 slum projects have been completed. In this background, population numbers anyone talks about are suspect.

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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2016 16:13:27 IST

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