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Mumbai makeover: Higher FSI can erase slums, heritage too

Maximum city Mumbai is in the throes of a makeover. A high-powered committee of the municipal corporation headed by municipal commission Sitaram Kunte has put out a two-volume 1500 page development plan (DP) that seeks to prepare the city for the next 20 years.

It prepares to face the growth of the city’s population from 12.4 million to an estimated 14 million people.

In seeking to provide housing and workplaces for this teeming millions, the plan seeks to use the same old tool of floor space index (FSI).

Where as the current rules restrict the FSI to 1.33 for the island city and 1 for the suburbs so as not to allow too much construction, construction happened anyway through a bunch of exemptions and transfers such as slum development or in the guise of IT-enabled services or provision of amenities like hotels, hospitals and schools.

The new plan seeks to allow FSI to be generally raised to 3.5 for nearly 58 percent of the city, to 5 for another 32 percent of the city, to 6.5 for about 5 percent of the city and whopping 8 for a small 0.5 percent of the city which are transit points.

The plan has a host of other features but this FSI increase alone has justifiably triggered huge concern among citizens on fears that the higher FSI will mean more houses that will stretch the already woefully inadequate infrastructure of roads, open spaces and other amenities.

The plan claims to be based on a GIS-enabled data base, and a painfully collected land use map. It further claims to have been written after a massive consultation process with citizens groups.

Despite this consultation with citizen groups, citizens have raised some fundamental objections. That the supposed map is full of errors, disregards heritage properties and ignores fundamental environmental concerns.

Cyrus Guzder, Founder Member, Citizens for Justice and Peace says an FSI as high as 8 is not the most worrying thing here. It is the manner in which it is being done – the general increase in FSI across Greater Mumbai, where it has been increased from 1.33 or 2 to 3.5 and even up to 6 – that is worrying.

The problem, according to him, is that there is a huge lobby that is in favour of FSI since they think that is the way to solve the housing problem in Mumbai. “But the thing is, if you are going to introduce say 100 units of new built-up area, then as per rule of thumb you need to put aside about 30 percent of that for amenities which are roads, schools, hospitals, dispensaries and above all open spaces, parks and gardens, which is not happening in this case,” Guzder told CNBC-TV18. 

However, Sanjay Ubale, former IAS Officer, CEO of Tata Realty does not seem to have an issue with FSI. “There seems to be a bit of a mistake in the way we consider FSI to be. A lot of the FSI which used to be disguised FSI, which used to get added up into built-up space – all of that now has been added together,” he says.

Shockingly, one of the most majestic edifices in Mumbai – The Town Hall, popularly known as The Asiatic Society – it houses is among the few Victorian architectural reminisce. This along with the 19th century neo-gothic buildings in the Fort prescient, the iconic Mount Mary Church in Bandra and hundreds of such landmarks are in danger of losing their heritage protection. Around 40 percent of the heritage structures in Mumbai have been excluded from the DP. Only those structures mentioned in the BMC’s land use plan will be preserved and protected. In effect, for instance, the 100 meter radius buffer zone won’t remain, allowing for rampant construction.

Urban planners and conservationists say while efforts are being made to notify some of these as UNESCO World Heritage sites, the civic body instead of protecting architectural legacy is only rendering them more vulnerable.

Worst still grade 3 heritage structures could be up for redevelopment, leaving the city’s vernacular architecture like Khotachi Wadi in Girgaon, Mathar Pakhadi in Mazgaon or the 12th century Banganga Tank and temples at risk.

V Ranganathan, chairman, MHCC, says: “It will be a pity if all this heritage presence lose their heritage character and get redeveloped and become the kind of urban concrete jungle which the rest of the city is fast becoming.”

The heritage conservation committee that is taking its case to the BMC, hopes better sense will prevail.

Guzder believes that the BMC and the planners are not ignorant of anything. Looking at the glaring omissions, it is obvious that they are either the result of absolute inaptitude or perhaps the intent to support vested interest which is not currently visible on the plan, either way it is very objectionable, he adds.

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