Mumbai’s tryst with vertical growth
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) unveiled Mumbai’s Development Plan 2034 that rides high on city’s vertical growth and unlocking of NDZ and salt pans for construction. The plan welcomed by many has also received flak for falling short of being farsighted. Sapna Srivastava presents a critical analysis of the city’s expansion plan.
The Mumbai Development Plan 2034 recently approved by the Maharashtra government has increased the floor space index (FSI) for both commercial and residential buildings. FSI is the ratio of the total area to the built-up area. A higher FSI means developers will be able to add more floors in a building on a given plot. The key feature of the plan is the grant of more FSI on wider roads with higher FSI provided in the island city than in the suburbs in a bid to enhance the existing infrastructure.
Floor Space Index (FSI)
|Island City||3||5||1.33 across commercial and esidential|
|Suburbs||2.5||5||2.0 (Residential) & 2.5 (Commercial)|
The move has received mixed reactions from the real estate sector. Some have welcomed the move saying it will help create large amount of housing in a space starved city, others are apprehensive of the higher FSI linked-premium while some others are questioning the resulting liveability quotient of the city and the fear of building vertical slums.
Availability not necessarily affordability
The Development Plan acts as a blueprint for Mumbai’s growth for the next 20 years and can have far reaching consequences for its citizens. The DP assumes that by allowing builders to build more, homes will become affordable because of more availability of residential units. Contradicting this fact is the economic survey, released by the Centre that showed nearly 500,000 homes in Mumbai lying vacant. Clearly, supply isn’t the issue; affordability is as millions of people still continue to live in slums or “Chawls”.
Mumbai’s DP vision statement also proposes creating 10 lakh affordable housing units by utilizing up 3,300 hectares (ha) of No-Development Zones (NDZ) including 130 ha of salt pans, 1,100 ha of tourism zones and 2,100 ha of privately owned lands. The environmental activists consider using salt pans for construction dangerous for city making it prone to flooding because the salt pan lands act as natural sieves during monsoon. Town planner and housing activist Chandrashekhar Prabhu had stated that by allowing construction on salt pans the government will kill the last green lungs of the city. He terms the cancellation of non-development zone and introduction of special development zone for affordable housing as a ploy.
BMC plans to incentivize landowners of NDZ land by offering them free development on 34 per cent of the land with an FSI of 3 on surrendering 66 per cent of the land for affordable homes and public amenities. If he doesn’t, the old NDZ norm of 0.2 FSI will apply. But there seem to be no clear demarcation of specific areas for affordable housing in the NDZ.
It remains to be seen is if such a norm actually serves the interest of the city or is a skilful deception. What comes to mind is the Development Control Regulations of 1991 for mill lands clearly allocating areas for commercial use, open spaces and mass housing use only to be modified in 2001 to reduce the promised 400 acres of city’s share to mere 60 acres.
Civic groups propose the alternative of developing 2,000 hectares of slum land and 3,000 hectares of land under the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) and land under the Mumbai Port Trust (MPT) that can provide equal number of affordable dwellings as envisaged in DP 20134. .
More buildings not necessarily more jobs
Another controversial hypothesis is the BMC claim of creating 8 million jobs by allowing four times more area for commercial structures in the Mumbai Development Plan. As critics point out, that creating more commercial spaces is definitely desirable but it will be foolish to assume that just by creating more commercial spaces, without considering other economic factors or infrastructure development higher employment opportunities can be generated. As per a 2017 report by Colliers, approximately 13 per cent of commercial space in the city remained vacant.
As Hussain Indorewala, Assistant Professor at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies had rightly said, that only allowing builders to construct more commercial spaces cannot create jobs. To go along with such planning, programmes specifically targeted towards creating jobs are needed
The richest civic body in the country is expected to garner around ₹5,000 crore through its development charge on increased floor space index (FSI) in the development plan 2034 (DP). In addition, the developers will be able to get illegal floors regularized on payment of a penalty or a premium, provided the new DP allows for increased FSI on that plot.
What’s good about it
Mumbai’s total area under housing is mere 22% that under new DP will increase to almost 50%. The area reserved per capita for open spaces, educational institutions and offices will also increase and to add more open spaces, a 300-acre garden will be developed on reclaimed land at Cuffe Parade and another at Sewree by the Mumbai Port Trust.
The plan promises to build social infrastructure by building theatres, museums, parks, playgrounds, theme gardens, old age homes and shelters for the homeless. It intends to create multi-purpose housing centres exclusively for women, facilities like childcare centres and co-working spaces. It has also envisaged a new authority dedicated to tackling parking issues in the city, from approving parking lots to conceptualising policies around the issue.
The new Development Plan does recognizes the need for development to keep pace for the growing population and has proposed a geographic distribution of FSI instead of a uniform FSI which is a good move. Transit-oriented development with higher FSI around stations will work well if planned and implemented with precision.
The new DP also clarifies the FSI calculations without ambiguities of what and what does not account as free of FSI bringing much needed simplicity and transparency, in a way eliminating corruption. In the proposed DP, FSI will be calculated it on the basis of the entire plot, which will provide more construction rights on the plot, in deference to the previous development rules. The BMC will also include a clause which will ensure that slum dwellers’ carpet area of 300 sqft in rehabilitation buildings does not include the flat’s wall area. For other constructions, builders will be allowed to count the width of the internal wall as part of the total carpet area, which was not the case earlier.
BMC has proposed that people would have the freedom to make changes in the interior part of their home as per necessity without damaging the structural stability of the building. The DP has also created several zones like residential, commercial, industrial and two mega parking space of 300 acres each in Cuffe Parade and near the Bombay Port Trust. Aarey Colony in Goregaon has been earmarked for a Metro car shed, rehabilitation of adivasis from the Sanjay Gandhi National park and a zoo.
Principal Secretary of the urban development department Nitin Kareer said that maximum stress has been put on making available more open space. He said that a provision has been made to add 42 hectares of open space. The DP has also designated 12,859 hectares as natural spaces, a new category where no new construction will be allowed unless permitted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) or if needed for essential services.
The plan, from its conceptualisation in 2012 has been ridden with controversies such as non-mapping of city’s slums, showing roads ending in the sea or marking schools, colleges, religious places wrongly forcing BMC to scrap the plan in 2015 and revise it again.
Unfortunately, the new DP plan is based on the fallacy of going vertical as the solution for all ills – land scarcity, decongestion, housing and city development. The indiscriminate hike in FSI if not synced with the enhancement of infrastructure and transport facilities can be disastrous for the city resulting in vertical slums and infrastructure crumbling under pressure.
Areas around existing railway stations are already bursting at its seams and traffic chaos is choking the road network across the city. The irrational densification of such zones can have a devastating impact on the city, warn urban planners. Pankaj Joshi, Executive Director, Urban Design Research Institute, reminded that increasing FSI in areas that are substantially developed will put pressure on railway infrastructure and might lead to more Elphinstone-like tragedies in future. The plan has also ignored the potential of redevelopment of slum lands and dilapidated government housing that can generate additional residential units for lower and middle income homebuyers.
The major concern is that no definitive time-frame for implementation has been outlined. BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta had himself admitted that 1991 Development Plan saw only 20 per cent implementation. But, this time BMC has conceived four 5-year plans with amounts to be set aside in every budget.
What the Realty Industry has to say
While hoping for the best, the question in every Mumbaikers mind is will the plan make or break the city. Most of the real estate developers see the new DP as the revival plan for the city that will not only boost the real estate sector but if accompanied with infrastructure growth can rid the city of woes of housing shortage, limited Grade A commercial spaces and lack of public & social amenities.
Shishir Baijal, Chairman & Managing Director, Knight Frank India, “Despite the long wait, the approval of the DP 2034 could be a silver lining amid the recent upheaval and slowdown. Key measures such as significant increase in the FSI for residential development particularly in South Mumbai and the thrust on affordable housing through the opening up no development zones and salt pan land would boost the national vision of ‘Housing for All’. Another unprecedented move is the fillip towards commercial space development. The burning demand for commercial real estate in the space-constraint city has received the government’s attention through increased FSI for building office spaces.”
Anuj Puri, Chairman, ANAROCK Property Consultants, “The DP is likely to spur real estate activity in the city and also pave the way for the development of much-needed affordable houses in Maximum City. However, if infrastructure development does not keep pace with increased construction, the stress on civic amenities and traffic may worsen in the city
Dr Niranjan Hiranandani, President NAREDCO, “For years, Mumbai’s Development Plans focused on residential real estate development. This time around, the focus has been equally placed on commercial real estate, with twin focus – first, on decongesting existing CBD areas as also extending the ‘walk to work’ aspect to newer locations. The Mumbai Development Plan 2034 brings in a serious effort as ensuring the target of affordable homes get constructed within a reasonably short time, given the opening up of various categories of land on which such construction was earlier not allowed. Similarly, there is an acceptance of the fact that GDP growth will not happen only because of industrial production, but commercial activities will play a major role in enhancing GDP growth – the DP shows significant hikes in FSI for commercial, retail and hospitality. The FSI hike for commercial real estate is expected to not just enhance GDP growth, but also encourage employment and economic development.”
Ramesh Nair, CEO & Country Head, JLL India, “We see a massive opportunity for affordable housing and the plan has managed to maintain a balance between environment and development. There is great promise in this DP and it is supported by a robust financial outlay for on ground implementation.”
Manju Yagnik, Vice Chairperson of Nahar Group, “Unlocking of land promised in Mumbai’s 20-year development plan will definitely facilitate the smart city concept, boost social infrastructure and also have an aim of creating 8 million jobs. Given the increasing population and need for more development within limited land, higher FSI for both residential and commercial development was long due and will certainly come as a boon to the city’s realty sector. The affordable housing targets roaring up to 1million would facilitate the homebuyers with voluminous options to choose from the variant and changing market dynamics. Overall, the announcement will act as a catalyst to the GDP growth of the country.”
Amit Wadhwani, Director, Sai Estate Consultants, “The development plan also emphasizes on the non-construction area, the theme gardens, pay and park concept, old-age homes, farmers market earmarked etc, leading to maintain the cities greenery in place. Adding to the Development Plan 2034, the Maharashtra government have looked into increasing the floor space and the extension of development of land, across the residential buildings and commercial as well. The implementation of Development Plan 2034 will bring in the easy way of communication not only for real estate but the entire segment hereafter.”
Ravi Ahuja, Senior Executive Director, Mumbai & Developer Services at Colliers International India, “I expect higher Commercial FSI to encourage existing premium and luxury residential plans to convert to commercial, particularly given the stagnancy in residential sales for premium and luxury segment developments. Office leasing demand continues to be steady at approx. 5 to 6 million sf p.a. in Mumbai”
Shubika Bilkha, Director, The Real Estate Management Institute (REMI), “While the details of the DP need to be further analysed, it will be interesting to understand how we manage green spaces and effectively accommodate additional development zones in an already extremely densely populated City. I am sure there is some cheer among the real estate sector, but as a citizen, I would be keen to understand the infrastructure support available to propel this development activity.”
Samyak Jain, Director, Siddha Group, ” In a space-starved city like Mumbai, vertical growth was the way to go and the higher FSI will allow vertical development and alleviate housing woes along with the support of robust infrastructure development in the city. Moreover, a city which witnesses an influx of professionals on a daily basis, there is a need for larger office spaces and the FSI increase could not have come at a better time. This development will also boost employment generation significantly.”