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Whose DP is it anyway?

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Recently, the Development Plan for Mumbai (DP 2034) was unveiled by the Maharashtra government. The strategy focuses a lot of FSI. But, how exactly will it impact Maximum City? Sulakshana Mahajan tries to read ‘between the plans’

When I was studying at Sir J.J.College of Architecture in 1970, one of the basic skills we had to learn was Development Control Regulations, known as building byelaws. This involved reading byelaws for Mumbai Corporation, described in complex, legal language, understanding the real meaning and learning the skill to apply them to buildings. One of the byelaws was about FSI (Floor Space Index).We were given to understand, that maximum FSI of 1 is provided for all cities in Maharashtra. FSI of 1.33 was permitted for Island city of Mumbai. Later, some of the architects developed skills to manipulate and get more buildable area for clients. I never imagined that FSI would become a powerful tool and command attention of every citizen, and would come to be trusted as the sole instrument of planning for the builders and politicians. One could not have imagined that such as discreet rule would become a medium of exchange like money for getting favours and extra FSI!

FSI confusion
The rationale for FSI 1 was never explained to us. We simply knew that the rule is prescribed by the Maharashtra Regional Planning Act in 1967, while the Mumbai city was happily built with FSI of more than 2. The policy makers then thought that limiting FSI would slow down the growth of Mumbai in future. Hence, it was kept low at 1 to restrict commercial activities and number of houses in cities. Creating artificial shortage in built up space would automatically limit the demand and would act as deterrent for migration of people from rural to urban areas.

This proved to be a grave mistake, and never got corrected as vested interests had started seeing short supply of spaces as an opportunity to exploit needy customers and make large profits in Mumbai and many other growing cities. This policy lead to proliferation of slums, illegal constructions, unplanned growth in all such cities. Also, rampant corruption was the result in all the municipalities. The MRTP Act limiting FSI, along with Rent Control Act of 1966 and ULC Act of 1976, proved to be extremely disastrous for Mumbai and its region. Hence, today more than 40 % people are forced to live in slums and illegal buildings.

Tinkering with rules
Realising the counterproductive outcome of the limited FSI, the government started tinkering with rules since mid 1990s to sanction more areas for buildings, to overcome the FSI limit. FSI against premium for lifts and staircases, fungible FSI, Transferable Development Rights or TDR and incentive FSI for redevelopment of old dilapidated buildings and slums etc. were created to incentivise private builders to create affordable housing in Mumbai.

The provisions proposed in the Mumbai’s new DP for 2014-34 provides FSI of 5 for commercial and residential buildings. The old incentives to construct more built up space with help of fungible FSI, TDR etc. have been maintained. All over the world, cities are trying to control proliferation of cars, while only in Mumbai DP asks for extremely high level of parking to give more incentive FSI. This is another extreme step seen as a corrective measure, without really understanding the use of FSI.

Development planning
The question is, who should decide the optimum FSI in Mumbai and on what grounds? The Earlier Draft Development Plan (EDDP) was prepared by the planners appointed by the Mumbai Corporation in 1915, along with a detailed map of Mumbai with variable FSI. The same was devised on the basis of various parameters, such ascost of land, prevailing demand and market prices, availability of basic infrastructure, access to suburban railway stations, distance from CBD and scope for construction in each ward and its character. This method is similar to the method followed by doctors while prescribing medicines to patients, considering their illness, age, BP, physical condition and laboratory tests etc.

The planners also had suggested a very simple and transparent method for calculating FSI and doing away with need for fungible FSI and complexity of calculations. Thus, a base FSI of 2 or 2.5 was suggested inclusive of everything, with maximum limit depending on character of various localities. It could have simplified the process of approval and avoided loopholes and associated corruption. The planner’s plan was for people. The new Development Plan, prepared by bureaucrats, as opposed to it, is for builders and cars and continuation of present practices!

(The writer is an urban planner and architect)

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