Seize the DP, Don’t Scrap It

Published in Mumbai Mirror as “Don’t Scrap the DP, Seize It” on 22 April 2015.

The first draft of the 2014-2034 Development Rules and Plan for Greater Mumbai were published online and in print by the BMC three months ago. Since then, an apparent profusion of errors has proved its undoing – many of which were themselves mis-reported. At first the media exposed some genuine but minor bloopers, which the BMC quickly corrected. But soon news came daily, and in the rush to outdo each other, editors failed to verify the alleged mis-marking of roads proposed through building societies, vanished heritage buildings, and commercial and residential zoning. Reporters did not seem to know that the BMC has limited planning authority in areas under the Collector, MMRDA or MbPT. Headlines were based on misunderstandings of terms like “permissible use”, “public purpose”, and the difference between “R-C” and “C-R”.

While technocratic lingo is not easily decoded, the BMC should have intervened more in the media, especially after journalists abandoned their responsibility to check the DP before reporting “errors”. They could have pointed out that many of these roads were already proposed in DP 1991 but never built, that Banganga and GPO were never shown as hospitals, and that Azad Maidan Police Station is indeed inside the Esplanade Court. Instead they issued a gag order to their planners. In the meantime, some Corporators proudly claimed that they opposed the draft DP from the moment it was published by their own agency, the BMC. Our elected representatives should have instead taken part in its preparation from the time they were elected in 2012, when land-use mapping for DP 2034 began.

The media and political uproar was welcome in some ways. Until recently, hardly anyone who was not an architect or engineer knew what the DP was. Most citizens will still have not seen their local sheet of DP 1991, by which we may remain governed for years to come. What is sad is that while the urban planning process has now been irreversibly democratised, nobody now wants to own the next DP. NGOs who had organised public consultations with the BMC in 2013-4 to demystify the planning process and input on the draft have since opposed it. When last week the BMC claimed that the few thousand complaints received until then were not enough to justify “dumping” the DP, a few shifted to attack mode, engulfing the BMC with objections to force the CM’s hand.

The DP’s “scrapping” is being hailed across the ideological spectrum from political parties to heritage activists, builders to environmentalists. Their political victory is an economic disaster for the city. Until a new DP is drafted, accepted and framed, Greater Mumbai remains governed by DP 1991, a tattered patchwork of rules and policies first conceived more than thirty years ago. It is this policy framework that sustains the city’s famous builder-politician nexus. With no new DP, housing redevelopment across Mumbai – in the lurch for years – will remain stalled, while projects such as the coastal road, Metro 2 and 3 (including the symbolic car shed at Aarey) and opening up NDZs will now be implemented without reference to any wider design and planning considerations. This is a policy vacuum which even the most ardent free-marketeer would abhor, and is no reason to celebrate.

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