The publication of the proposed Greater Mumbai Development Plan for 2034 over the past month has seen a rare coalition emerge to condemn it, from NGOs and political parties, to celebrities and artistes, and in the past week even the BMC’s own Heritage Conservation Committee. Aggrieved residents and alert activists are seeing dark conspiraces in the details of road alignments, land use reservations, and hikes in FSI (Floor Space Index) across the city. While high FSI has become central to the debate on DP 2034, what matters most for Mumbaikars is how policies like FSI, TDR (Transferable Development Rights) and other Development Control Rules (DCR) can be harnessed to create greater public goods and a better urban environment in the next twenty years.
Portrayed from Left to Right as a sell-out to the construction industry, DP 2034 is in fact a paper template, referred to when permissions are sought for development or redevelopment. Together with the DCR, they define the guidelines and recipe book of policies by which land use, building, zoning, amenities and infrastructure are regulated. DP 2034 will only be the third for Greater Mumbai. The first DP was proposed in 1964 and sanctioned in 1967 for a decade until 1977. It was a broad land use plan, a response by engineers and planners who were horrified by the Island City’s runaway population growth and industrial concentration, even after the annexation of the suburbs to Greater Bombay in the fifties, and the statehood of Maharashtra in the sixties.
The second DP – still in effect – was published in 1984, submitted to Government in 1989, and finally sanctioned between 1991 and 1994. Whereas thirty years ago planners dreamed of dispersing population and relocating industry to the mainland, today large cities are seen as “engines of growth”. DP 2034 calls for densification, not decongestion. But the chief tool by which planners then and now sought to manage and direct urbanisation, and generate surpluses for public amenities, was through FSI and TDR. Over time, these went from being bureaucrats’ preferred policy instruments to the builders’ tradeable commodities, entrenching the well-known nexus on which much of the Mumbai’s and Maharashtra’s finances increasingly depend. DP 2034 attempts to rebalance the use of FSI/TDR across the city as a whole, and adopts a more practical approach to FSI as an “outer envelope” of development rather than as the “panacea” and “incentive” for everything from slum rehabilitation to developing public spaces.
One of the most widely-debated aspects of DP 2034 is the high FSI in areas close to transport nodes, called “Transit-Oriented Development” (ToD) in planning lingo. In Mumbai, station areas are already jam-packed, but often under-built and poorly managed, and thus unable to profit from their density and “network effects”. Higher FSI in these corridors make sense, but only if regulated strictly and designed well. Rather than a chaotic jam of commuters, vehicles, vendors and shops, our station areas could be pleasurable public spaces mixing hawker plazas, civic amenities, office parks, and urban greenery above and below ground. Builders and their lobbyists are often fond of claiming that Manhattan or Singapore have even higher FSI than proposed in DP 2034, but what they don’t mention (or know) is that in other global cities, often other planning norms override basic FSI – and that rich people travel by public transport.
The problem is not with FSI per se, but how it is regulated, and in whose interest. The same goes for public spaces. The DP classifies broader land uses across the city, and specifies areas to be acquired for any number of purposes – parks, schools amenities, housing, or to make way for new infrastructure or wider roads. But in many cases the BMC has historically failed to acquire lands earmarked in the DP, which became frozen in time, and often encroached. Chances are that a nearby slum colony – especially if it has come up in the past 3-4 decades – was first settled on DP-reserved land. Ironically, many of these slums are now being redeveloped by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, cheating the city of amenities promised and reserved decades ago.
While criticism has been high decibel since plans for FSI and proposed land use (PLU) were published online in February with the draft DCR, the BMC has shown unprecedented transparency in formulating DP 2034. Last year it published both its existing land use (ELU) studies for download online, and held extensive public workshops in every ward, and with special interest groups on issues ranging from water to education, urban design to public health. Until recently, most citizens had little awareness of their local plan, as copies of earlier DPs were always difficult to procure, and the 1991 DC Rules were frequently amended and litigated. Now there is no excuse for not knowing how your city will develop in twenty years – every Mumbaikar should download and study DP 2034 for their locality. The period for public comment on DP 2034 expires on 26 April. What remains to be seen are the measurable commitments the BMC makes to developing public goods for Mumbai in DP 2034, and whether these can be quantified by citizens and the public as easily as planners and builders calculate FSI and TDR.