The Glamour & Gloom of Parel
The accidental transformation of Lower Parel in Central Mumbai from textile mills and chawls of poor to swanky commercial and residential neighbourhood of rich has been swift and tragic.
– Sapna Srivastava, Editor – Realty Plus
The Elphinston bridge collapse on September 29 and close on heels the Kamala Mills fire tragedy on December 29 last year, came as no surprise to anyone except probably the city authorities who were caught off-guard. The incidents were the disaster waiting to happen and many more will ensue if authorities do not get their act together instantaneously.
The current haphazard construction pattern by the private developers has led to a chaotic situation where glitzy residential towers and office buildings are jostling with the dilapidated chawl structures and ghettos of slums. The 100 year old utility infrastructure inherited from the British era has hardly seen any augmentation to keep up with the ever growing footprint of population in the area. To top it the constant change in land use, unchecked mushrooming of commercial establishments and inadequate safety compliances has put the life of the residents here at risk.
Parel can truly be cited as the case of missed opportunities. The large tract of land in the heart of Mumbai could have been an urban development example if authorities had not allowed piecemeal development of land parcels but planned an integrated re-development & restructuring of the entire area. Not only an inclusive re-development would have meant the coming down of sky rocketing land prices in the area, but also availability of affordable housing for millions of people as well as open public spaces for the citizens.
The Build-up to the tragedy
The cotton boom of 1860’ encouraged the setting up of textile mills and worker chawls on the land lying between Tardeo and Parel. About 90 per cent of the mill lands were on long leases. Tilll1991, when the owners of the mills claimed that their units were unviable, the Central Mumbai housed 58 mills on nearly 600 acres of land.
The Maharashtra government introduced the Development Control Rule – DCR 58 that opened the mill lands for redevelopment provided they were divided equally among the owner, Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority (MHADA) and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The formula, referred to as ‘one-third, one-third, one-third’.
Mill owners were obliged to surrender one-third of their plots for public housing to MHADA and another third for open space and civic amenities to BMC. The noted architect Charles Correa was appointed to draw up an integrated plan for the neighbourhood by creating new thoroughfares and widening existing roads.
A section of the Charles Correa development for the Mumbai’s mill land
But in 2001, the rule relating to mill land sales was amended stating that the two-thirds rule was no longer applicable to the entire plot of mills, but only to the open spaces between structures. This revised version could free up only about 50 acres instead of 400 acres as per original DCR and shattered any prospect of implementing a holistic development plan for the neighbourhood.
The Scenario Today
Driving past the shimmering, glass-facade office buildings and residential skyscrapers, one can easily notice lack of green open spaces, mill workers housing and for that matter even proper roads to access these glamorous towers occupied by the privileged few.
Therein lays the story of how Mumbai lost the plot.
The BMC and MHADA were together entitled to get about 58 acres from mill owners but they have acquired only about 35 acres. And, even with what the agencies have acquired, they haven’t done much with it. No public gardens for the city as proposed in DCR and only 6,000 houses built for 2.5 lakh affected mill workers.
On the other hand the 33 mills spread over 250 acres of land owned privately, have been developed or are in the process of being developed with a potential 2.1 crore square feet of commercial and residential space. Some of the city’s plushest residential and office addresses are here.
But, the place abuzz with economic & retail activity and social & nightlife has hardly been able to cope with the area’s rapid development. Severely lacking are basic amenities like effective public transport, water, electric, parking facilities, adequate width of roads as per the area density for smooth access and exit of pedestrians and vehicles and crowd management at stations. Adding to the chaos are the Mills turned into malls, offices and luxury apartments at discretion.
Time to get it Right
Yesteryears undesirable suburb of Parel is now touted as the most coveted piece of real-estate in the country’s financial capital. But, this transformation has come at a cost. The mill workers and the city of Mumbai have been devoid of their share of prosperity. And even what look like shining and plush structures are also fending for themselves for basic utilities. However, the two tragic incidents have showed that the vulnerabilities aren’t just limited to narrow roads & traffic jams or insufficient electric & water supply.
The British-era Elphinston Bridge partially occupied by hawkers and with a single entry and exit staircase is used by hundreds of people every day. Many concerned citizens over the years had been informing the relevant authorities. Unfortunately, it took killing of scores of people for the government to take action.
Three months later, the Kamala Mills fire again reminded us of the callousness of the authorities and no lessons learnt. If the fire had broken out just a few hours earlier during evening peak hours, it would have been almost impossible for fire engines to even enter the mill compound. The likely death and destruction would have been far worse.
Are the authorities giving the approvals and no-objections with necessary scrutiny? Is there any initiative to put in place a disaster management team or conduct a scientific study on the requirement of civic amenities in the region?
A holistic renewal plan for the entire region, modification of obsolete development rules, increasing the infrastructure capacity to exceed the requirement and carefully planned land use and allocations with close eye on the density and usage ratio of public facilities are the need of the hour.
Hope the authorities are listening.