Villages: Navi Mumbai’s deliberate blind spots

The gaothans were neglected from the urban perspective though they were to be part of an emerging new urban space said to have been meticulously planned.

Mahesh Vijapurkar May 27, 2013 15:55:46 IST
Villages: Navi Mumbai’s deliberate blind spots

As you approach Kharghar while driving down from Pune, a surprise awaits. A blue-and-white board in Marathi welcomes you to the Kharghar Gram Panchayat. But Kharghar is in Navi Mumbai, the world's single largest new city being built, right?

Yes, it is, and that board is not a freak remnant of the era when the swath across the creek on Mumbai's mainland was a cluster of villages, from Digha in Airoli to Vashi to Uran. It is new enough to be post-Navi Mumbai. Right now there are such 51 other villages.

Even that swath of 162 sq km which is under the jurisdiction of Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), incorporated in 1991, had 29 villages which were overnight converted into parts of the city though till that moment, they had been villages even as that part of the city was being built.

Villages Navi Mumbais deliberate blind spots

New infrastructure. AFP

To quell any confusion, we need to go to the back story: when Navi Mumbai was planned in 1970 to decongest Mumbai, the area earmarked was a contiguous 347 sq km which of course comprised villages – their habitats called the gaothans and the extended lands around, farms and fields.

When building the new city, City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) began work on the nodes which were away from the rural habitats but got their names from the closest villages. During this process, the villages, or more precisely, the gaothaans were left to be governed by their respective gram panchayats.

What is 'gaothaan' in Marathi is the gaon or gram in other languages and the area around it within the revenue limits is the 'seem' which could comprise of anything else which is not the habitat, and include the farms, the commons, the roads in them, the ponds et al. In a multilingual India, there are variations for these terms.

It has to be qualified that these are not the quaint gaothaans of Mumbai which were slowly enveloped by the emerging urban spaces but retained their characteristics like Matherpakadi in Mazgaon, Kothachiwadi in Girgaon, orBandra or Pali gaothaans, some of which are on the heritage lists. These are just ordinary villages, now getting worse.

That meant neglect from the urban perspective though they were to be parts of an emerging new urban space said to have been meticulously planned. When new norms were in force – FSI regulations, space use for distinct residential, commercial and public purposes – for the nodes, the villages remained untouched.

The villages turned chaotic. Anybody could do just about anything, build anything anywhere anyhow as they do in just about any village which, under panchayats raj, are least regulated even if in the vicinity of a big city and part of its metropolitan ambit. A visit to these would show how most have escaped planning is visible.

Now back to the larger Navi Mumbai, beyond the areas in the jurisdictional control of NMMC. The CIDCO is continuing to build rest of the area, known as Navi Mumbai Project Area to distinguish it from NMMC swath, and is treating the 52 villages, Kharghar included, like it did with the 29.

Now, as then, the CDCO’s role is confined to providing water, collecting garbage and no more which is nominal. As did happen with the 29 before their municipalisation by NMMC in 1991, with CIDCO ceding control after it thought it had done enough on the 162 sq km area, they were under the Thane Zilla Parishad. Like now the other 51 depend on Raigad district administration.

For instance, registrations of birth or death in these 51 villages are to be done with the Panvel Panchayat Samiti of the Raigad ZP. The schools in their vicinity are superintended by the Raigad Education Officer. Earlier, a car or bike bought entailed a visit to Alibaug for registering them; now a new set up in Panvel has helped cut the nuisance.

These villages are clearly demarcated. What were the village habitats – houses, shops, schools, and such public amenities plus a buffer of 500 metre is all that these ignored villages now comprise. One official had confided about two years ago, and surely no change has been see later, that "to us, those villages don’t count; it would be the next civic body’s headache".

The CIDCO does not step in to regulate anything except to supply the water at levels much less than it does for the nodes and collect garbage. This all the villages will have till they are assimilated in a new civic body or consumed into NMMC’s jurisdiction when CIDCO eventually thinks its work is done. It is unlikely anytime soon.

That has given rise to a city, touted as modern, and built ever so slowly, that even the populating of the new nodes has always been much behind set targets, to a new paradigm which can at best be described as 'rurban' – not entirely urban nor entirely rural but arguably chaotic, and full of disparities.

The focus has remained on building the nodes, and supporting them with new infrastructure, of course well planned, with neat railway stations, the towers hiding the disorder in the villages. Unfortunately, CIDCO is persisting with this model of development despite the experience with the 162 sq km which we can call is the first phase.

By leaving the 29 villages in the first phase virtually left unattended till the NMMC was formed in 1991, ensuring the gaothans were left to be dealt with by others, CIDCO heaped a burden on the NMMC. CIDCO is walking the same path now with 52 other villages in the second phase, keeping them at more than an arm’s length while all investment is outside of them.

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