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Open Space-Debate In The Context Of The Development 2014-2034

Monday, March 02, 2015
By Fazalahmed B. Khan

The draft Development Plan for Mumbai for 2014-2034 had recently been tabled before the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. Its contents and important features have been made public. As announced by the Corporation, a committee comprising the Standing Committee chief and two other members will be looking into the citizens’ inputs, before finalization of the same at Corporation level for sending it to the Government.

A Development Plan (DP) is a key technical and statutory document for a city through which all future development activities are controlled and city’s physical, operational, health and infrastructure needs are sought to be met, and a definite image is created for the city. As such it is natural to set off a debate among the public, stakeholders, and NGOPs working for better urbanization etc. Since Mumbai the bustling financial capital of the country is also the second most population dense city in the world, it is bound to have a clamour of debate. The strongest reaction that arose from almost all quarters and sections is about the proportion of open space sought to be achieved through this DP. As per the figures given out by the Corporation the existing DP (1991-2014) had open space norm of 6 sq m/person in suburbs and 1.2 sq m/person in the island city. The new DP seeks to have this 2 sq m/person. It would be worthwhile if we look what is the norm for open space elsewhere.

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests ensuring at least a minimum availability of 9 sq meter ((m2) green open space per person.. In India only the planned cities of Gandhinagar, Chandigarh, New Delhi and Bangalore have per capita green space much above the minimum norm of WHO. Many of the cities have open spaces above the WHO norms as can be seen from the following:

By any standard Mumbai is having the lowest open space norm. However, the NGOs and other activists say that even this proposed norm seemed to be far-fetched. Similarly it contrasts with some of components of the DP.

1.    The last remaining lung of the city- Aarey- in the form of about 1619 hectares of greenery is likely to have development of various sorts, which will ultimately leave only 14% of the open area. This has raised huge outcry, even from the leaders and important personalities of the ruling parties in the Corporation and the State Government.

2.    Corner cutting: In the existing DP there is a provision that 15% of the area to be developed by the developer is to be kept reserved for recreation ground. This has hardly materialized, as this area is used for parking. Now even this percentage is reduced to 10%.

3.    The quality of open space is also essential. Unfortunately, Mumbai with its about 19 lakhs has a tree: man ratio of 1:6, i.e. six trees for one person whereas ideally a city should have a minimum ratio of more than 1 tree for one person, if not more.

A large number of NGOs, expert urban activists, urban designers, town planners, public health experts, and well meaning citizens had at the appropriate time submitted their suggestions and objections (6000) and had participated in the workshops (46) taken by the Corporation. Their complaint is that the suggestions hardly find any place in the draft DP. If these suggestions and now reactions are compiled with just one sentence taken from them it will fill many pages of this issue. Medical experts, psychologists, and others are crying hoarse that lack of open space in the city is directly linked to various disorders, rise of Tuberculosis, anger, irritation, negativity, poor concentration, mental peace and short sleep , which correlates with obesity, chronic disease and mortality. According to child specialists lack of open space and greenery affects a child’s physical development and social, emotional and cognitive skills. “Lack of natural spaces breaks the synergy between nature, mind and body. Open space is vital not just for those living with mental health problems but also for nor mal individuals, says Dr. Anjali Chhabria.

It is hoped that the complaints hearing committee of the Corporation and the State Government may not ignore this vital aspect directly linked to the well-being of the city's 1.24 crore populace.                            

(The author is Retd. Dy. Secretary, Urban Development Department and author of books on urbanization and environment)

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