A blueprint for Mumbai

Published : Dec 05, 2003 00:00 IST

Britain's Prince Charles during a visit to the Dharavi slums in November. The `Vision Mumbai' plan envisages eight lakh low-income group houses to rehabilitate slum-dwellers. -

Britain's Prince Charles during a visit to the Dharavi slums in November. The `Vision Mumbai' plan envisages eight lakh low-income group houses to rehabilitate slum-dwellers. -

Amid criticism, the Maharashtra government approves a plan to turn Mumbai into a world-class city.

MENTION Mumbai, and it immediately conjures up images of high-rise buildings and sprawling slums, of bustling traffic and interminable commutes and of billionaire industrialists and wretched beggars. The city is bursting at its seams but still manages to chug along under the weight of its problems. City planners, however, say that Mumbai faces a bleak future unless something is done urgently. A realistic and viable plan for the redevelopment of Mumbai has often been debated but has thus far remained elusive.

In yet another effort at resolving the metropolis' insurmountable problems, Bombay First, an organisation with representatives from the corporate world, asked global consulting firm Mckinsey and Company to prepare a comprehensive plan that will turn Mumbai into a "world-class" city by 2013. Working essentially on the lines of Shanghai or Singapore was Bombay First's objective. Commissioned in November 2001, the plan was presented to the Maharashtra government in September 2003. Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has in effect agreed to most of the recommendations and appointed a special officer to oversee their implementation.

The report, titled "Vision Mumbai", states that as India's commercial capital, Mumbai is representative of the country's strengths and therefore should become "world class". A summary of recommendations, compiled in a report, essentially lays out a blueprint for Mumbai's overall development over the next decade. Estimated to cost Rs.200,000 crores, a fourth of which will be raised from public sources, the plan focusses on six key areas: economic growth, transportation, housing, other infrastructure, financing and governance.

The report's authors, who had extensive discussions with the bureaucratic establishment, suggest a multi-pronged programme. "The exercise is to revive Mumbai by generating a debate with a plan in front of us," says Sanjay Ubale, member-secretary of the newly created task force for Mumbai. "We still need to build on the Vision Mumbai report, crystallise the vision, formulate a strategy and then come up with an action plan". He told Frontline that since there was a renewed focus on Mumbai, the aim was to keep the city's development "on the agenda all the time". Since a steering committee headed by the Chief Minister has been formed, the government appears committed to saving the city.

While nobody doubts the intentions behind turning Mumbai into an efficient and more liveable city, the report has been severely criticised by several urban planners, environmentalists and civic activists. "It comes across as a report by the builders' lobby. The recommendations scream: privatisation, corporatisation and build, build, build," an urban planner told Frontline. The city would never have declined to the present level had it not been for Maharashtra's builder-politician nexus. "Unless there is political will, no amount of reports and plans will resolve Mumbai's problems," the planner said. Besides, he said, it seemed to be a pro-rich, pro-elite piece of work. "It is unfortunate that globalisation's effect is felt in areas such as public policy. When has a private agency, that too a multinational, been used in determining policy?" he asked.

To begin with the Mckinsey plan stresses the need to boost economic growth from the current gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.4 per cent per annum to 8-10 per cent. The study states that the slowdown in economic growth has been largely responsible for the deterioration of Mumbai. A higher economic growth will only be possible with an increase in employment. In order to achieve the 8-10 per cent target, almost 0.5 million additional jobs will have to be created, it says. This could be done in high and low end service sectors and by converting the hinterland into a manufacturing and logistics hub, analysts suggest.

Transportation needs massive improvement, says the report. "While Mumbai may be acknowledged as having one of the more extensive and efficient transport networks in India, its infrastructure is woefully inadequate by world-class standards." Although several projects are under way, such as the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), which specifically looks at improving the road and rail network, their implementation has to be faster. Additionally, the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP), funded by the World Bank involves building elevated roads, elevated light rail transit system and construction of subways. Analysts suggest an inner ring rail, an inner ring freeway and trans-harbour rail and road links.

Housing and land availability are Mumbai's most controversial problems. The report recommends increasing the availability of land by 50 to 70 per cent. Increasing the Floor Space Index (FSI), opening up mill and port lands, relaxing Coastal Zonal Regulation (CZR) II and III for Mumbai, and building the trans-harbour link, it says, will create space for housing. Furthermore, the report suggests creating 8 lakh low-income group houses to rehabilitate the city's slum-dwellers by redesigning the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) project - incidentally another contentious issue. The plan hopes to recover the construction cost by charging slum-dwellers a rent of between Rs.750 and Rs.1,500 a month. The creation of special housing zones, on the lines of the Special Economic Zones, will avoid the rental problems and will, therefore, create more housing.

"Rescind the Urban Land Ceiling Act (ULCA) and the Rent Control Act, as well as reduce the time taken for building approvals", and the bulk of the issues relating to housing will be solved, it suggests.

Other infrastructure include ensuring adequate water supply, sanitation and health facilities, reducing pollution and creating a safe environment in terms of law and order. For further efficiency, the report suggests privatising the public health system and expediting the privatisation of Mumbai airport. Additionally, the plan lays emphasis on an efficient, effective, responsive and accountable government. The analysts suggest corporatising some departments. At the end of the day it is governance that will decide which way the city will head, they say.

Mckinsey estimates that the plan requires a total expenditure of Rs.50,000 crores by the State government. Of this Rs.15,000 crores can be raised by increasing property tax and converting leasehold government land into freehold land by collecting a fee from the lessees. About Rs.30,000 crores can be raised through bonds and loans. The remaining Rs.1,50,000 crores will be raised through private investment and through the contribution of tax-payers over a 10-year period. Since Mumbai raises Rs.40,000 crores for the State and Central governments and Rs.7,000 crores for the local government annually, it should be capable of supporting such expenditure, the report observes.

Although there is no dispute over the focus areas of the report, several recommendations have been challenged. Critics in fact question the very methodology of the research. Neither Mckinsey nor Bombay First is willing to divulge any information on the collection of data. Most of the conclusions they maintain were derived from interviews, workshops and data from government sources. Owing to the lack of transparency, experts question the report's conclusions.

"No doubt things in Mumbai are in a terrible state and it requires drastic solutions. Yet is this the way we want to go?" asks Debi Goenka, a member of the Bombay Environmental Action Group. There is no need for these reports and the fanfare that goes with it. If the State government is committed to saving Mumbai from further decay, all it needs to do is amend a few laws. "Change the ULCA and the Rent Control Act and that itself will change the face of Mumbai. Moreover, how can they come to the conclusion about the CZR without conducting an environment study or consulting environmentalists?" asks Debi Goenka.

Sharit Bhowmick, a sociologist who has been working with the SRA, says: "Some of the suggestions are positively absurd. How is it possible to build a ring road given the shape of Mumbai? Why should the city be developed block-by-block? Mumbai has too many layers, too many issues to resolve. You cannot just carve it up and redevelop it. It is only likely that the city's haves will benefit if they do this piecemeal development." According to State government data, 54 per cent of Mumbai's population lives in slums; 73 per cent of its households live in one-room tenements, and 18 per cent in two-room structures. Bhowmick says one must work at redeveloping Mumbai with these percentages in mind and with some perspective. Besides, this is the category of people on which the city functions. Mumbai's population stands at around 15 million and is increasing each day with fresh immigrants coming in from across the country.

Ubale, however, argues that no plan will work unless it involves the city's people. Employment has to be generated for economic growth, and that can be done through development projects, he argues. Ever since the 1970s, when the city's manufacturing sector began a steady decline, the bulk of Mumbai's population lost the ability to earn a steady income. Thereafter the quality of life declined drastically. "We recognise that this is the first aspect we have to work on if we want the city to improve," says Ubale.

In spite of the criticism, by and large Mckinsey's plan has been accurate on focus areas, says an urban planner who has designed several major infrastructure projects in the city. Now, as the debate goes on, what remains a puzzle is why a State government that is reeling under a Rs.87,000-crore debt has been suddenly motivated to rebuild its capital city.

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