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Oshiwara residents Fight for their Playground

Oshiwara residents win back playground plot

October 7, 2012, Hindustan Times, Mumbai report

At a time when citizens are struggling to save the city’s open spaces, residents of Oshiwara have succeeded in removing illegal structures from a plot reserved for a playground. Incidentally, the reserved plot had been allotted by Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (Mhada) to a private trust for constructing a seven-storey international school.

“It is a big victory for everyone fighting to save the open spaces in city. The playground was barricaded by tin sheets, thereby not allowing the local residents to use it,” said Sumesh Lekhi, member of Oshiwara Lokhanwala Citizens’ Association (OCLA), which had filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay high court on the issue. “Children will finally be able to avail of the playground that was meant for them,” he added.

On October 3, the high court directed the state government to reply to the PIL that challenged the allotment of land by MHADA to a private trust for constructing an international school.

According to the petition, in January 2002, the state had ordered Mhada to allot the plot to Janata Education Society. “Locals had been negotiating for a playground since 1996, but in 2007, the land was leased out to the school at a throwaway price. It was the only open space for thousands of citizens in the area,” said Rakesh Coelho, trustee, Tarapore Towers.

Following a meeting with Satish Gavai, vice-president, Mhada, last week, permissions were granted to demolish the illegal structures erected on the playground. “We organised a hearing for both the stakeholders – the citizens’ group and the school trustees. Based on the hearing, we passed an order for demolition of structures on the ground because it violated the law,” said Gavai.

Kunal Dalal, trustee, Janata Education Society, refused to comment on the matter as it was sub-judice.


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Participate in the Plan

The Urban Design Research Institute invites public participation in the process of revision of the Development Plan of Greater Mumbai 2014-2034.

The UDRI is a non-profit organization that has been capturing the voice of civil society and of urban planning experts to improve the MCGM’s Development Plan.

It is now time to expand the group of stakeholders who engage in this process in order to make the planning process truly Inclusive and Equitable.

We need your help in order to understand local area needs and communicate this to the MCGM as they proceed with the Development Plan and its implementation.

Together it is possible to arrive at a consensus on what is needed for all of Mumbai’s residents.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to determine what kind of city we build and leave behind for future generations.


In your email please indicate the area of Mumbai in which you would be interested in working for and other contact information such as your name, details of affiliated organisation/group (if any) and mobile phone number

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* Get a copy of the Existing Land Use plan prepared by the BMC. You can log on to, click on Development Plan update and download a copy of the ELU survey for your ward. 

*If you want to know more about the Development Plan and why it is significant, log onto to find out.

*Check the ELU survey and match the status on the ground. Is it being used for the purpose mentioned?

*If it does not match the actual status, it has to be highlighted. Because if you don’t, that park or school it was meant for, could be lost for good.

*Draft an official complaint pointing out the discrepancy.

*Write into the Urban Design Research Institute at Or call 022-28222924. Your complaints will be sent to the concerned civic department.

*Approach your local ward office with documents to establish the discrepancies.

*Upload the documents and pictures onto the Plan Your Mumbai page on Facebook.

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A Plan For, Of and By the People

Why we should care about the Mumbai Development Plan

By Deepali Mody

The Maharashtra Region and Town Planning Act specify that every municipal corporation must prepare a development plan to be implemented over 20 years. The last time the development plan was prepared for Mumbai was in 1981 and it was adopted only thirteen years later, in 1994. Thus a new plan, which is valid for 20 years, will need to be prepared and ratified by 2014 and will be in force till 2034.

In order to prepare this plan, Mumbai’s municipal corporation has selected an international consultant through a tendering process and it will be expected to collate and compile all of the data available on the city before making such a plan.

The current development plan defines land reservations- (that is land that is set aside for a specific public purpose) amenities, transportation networks and services through a coloured land-use map of the entire city.

The related development control regulations define the building laws for each individual land parcel. This defines things such as the allowable floor space index, which stipulates the how much floor area you can build on a given plot of land, setbacks from site boundaries, regulations for light and ventilation, etc.

The new Mumbai development plan is also a pure land-use plan that will be used to define major infrastructure projects in the pipeline or define location of housing, commercial or livelihood activities. It will define the location of parks, schools, hospitals and other amenities in areas and neighbourhoods where there is no access to these facilities.

It will also define the size and location of open spaces and be used to control the built form and the urban character of each neighbourhood through a detailed set of urban design guidelines.

However, it can go well beyond that: the development plan document and planning process itself are in need of re-invention. Cities such as London and New York  use the idea of the development plan to define what they want their city to be in a holistic manner and do not limit their planning to simply defining land use as is done in the current Mumbai development plan.

So, for instance, PlaNYC talks about the need for clean waterways as a goal and then goes on to talk about how this goal may be achieved. The London plan defines not just the spatial distribution and density of housing for each area but also specifies the quantity of rental housing, affordable housing and handicap accessible housing to be provided. Moreover, what if it were possible for concerned citizens to be part of this planning process, which was not the case when the current plan was created. Can a citizen group have a voice over the condition of its city’s roads; footpaths open spaces, location and condition of the schools in the neighbourhood and the availability of health care facilities? Can area-level municipal offices be provided with greater autonomy to negotiate initiate and allocate budgets for work in each municipal area and be responsive to citizen concerns and need?

The Urban Design Research Institute is currently engaged in looking at how such a public participation planning process can be created. The Institute has initiated a public participatory process to support the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai in its preparation of the new development plan.

The intention is to create a ‘peoples brief’. In order to understand and reach a consensus on what this brief might be the Institute is conducting ward-level surveys with the help of students of architecture. It has also set up stakeholder groups, consisting of experts and grassroots non-profit groups and researchers, who will bring their vast experience to a common table in order to provide such a planning brief to the municipal corporation.

Involving citizens in planning creates ownership of the plan and guards the plan against derailment by vested interests that have in the past used minor modifications to the development control rules as a means of subverting the development plan.

The Institute, in initiating this public participatory process, believes that the plan has a better chance of being equitable and responding to the needs of a larger cross-section of Mumbai. While the municipal corporation is not bound to accept any of the Institute’s suggestions, these will be available as a resource that the whole city can draw upon. Also, the process of involving various groups will spread awareness among citizens of the need for them to also take the initiative in engaging in the planning process and reaching out to civic authorities either directly or through organizations such as the Institute.

(Citizens can write to

((Deepali Mody is an architect and director at Urban Design Research Institute, a city-based public charitable trust engaged in research and advocacy group.))

Deepali Mody’s article was published in the Hindustan Times, Mumbai. To view, click on

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Blinkered Vision

by Sameera Khan

Mumbai’s makeover & questions of citizenship

The year is 2050 and finally Mumbai is Shanghai. Steel and glass spires dot the island city which is packed with numerous flyovers, malls, multiplexes, up-market boutiques and coffee shops. Almost every inch of land including the former mangrove swamps and saltpans is covered with striking high-rises. As the vertical city ascends skywards, not a single shanty or slum can be spotted for miles. No hutments, no hawkers, no footpath dwellers under the distinctive blue tarpaulins. It’s almost as if the poor have vanished in to history.

In reality, they have just been booted to the outskirts of the flawless city. But their labour is still in demand. So everyday they stand in line, punch a ticket and enter the metropolis in order to execute a multitude of menial services for its elite residents. Cleaning, clearing, cooking, babysitting, chauffeuring, disposing, delivering, constructing – performing the everyday chores for the extraordinary global city. But as soon as its sundown, they shut shop and board express trains that whisk them out of the city within minutes. There are exceptions of course. Some, like child-minders, are required to render services after dark, so they have special permits that are renewed every quarter…

Don’t laugh this off as a wild fantasy. If you’ve been following the ongoing deliberations about rebuilding Mumbai in to a “world class city” in the mold of Shanghai or Singapore, then the scenario painted above is as close you can get to the vision of the new Mumbai. For ‘Vision Mumbai’, an idea first mooted in a report prepared by international consulting firm McKinsey for Bombay First, a corporate funded lobby group, and further augmented by Vilasrao Deshmukh’s state government is skewed in favour of designing and planning a grandiose global city that caters to the wishes of the elite even as it marginalizes and pushes to the corners the most vulnerable sections of the city’s population the poor and the dispossessed, and especially the women,  children and aged among them.

Besides, the idea of a spatially divided city – on class and race lines – is not a novelty for Mumbai. When the British took charge of Bombay, as it was then called, they physically divided the southern portion of the island city in to the Fort – where the British and some wealthy Indians held sway – and the native quarter or the Black town – where the bulk of the Indians lived and worked incongested and under-planned conditions. These included areas such as Kalbadevi, Girgaum, Mandvi, and Dongri.

But it is this new Mumbai that now interests us. This Mumbai where several crores are to be spent just for refurbishment of Marine Drive and for renovation of the facades of its Art Deco buildings, where 42 more flyovers and elevated roads are planned (in addition to the 50-odd flyovers already built in the last decade), where coastal expressways and trans-harbour sea links are being built, and where more land – especially in the erstwhile mill district – is expected to be earmarked for high-end housing, malls and entertainment hubs.

You don’t have to be very bright to note that this makeover of Mumbai favours the well-off segments of the city. For example, the intense focus on building many miles of flyovers across the city is to largely benefit the few that use private motorized transport when almost 87 per cent of the city’s 12 million citizens use public transport (trains and buses).

But then that’s not surprising considering that the affluent have the most say in the running of the city. Most government-appointed panels that draw up long-term “visions” for the city are swarming with corporate bigwigs, prominent architects and urban designers. Many citizen groups that consult with local government are filled with middle-class professionals and retired executives. (Those in South Mumbai are often populated with residents who enjoy the luxury of rent-control apartments.

Often their vision, blurred by corporate and self interest, and admiration for the efficiency of Western (and now Far Eastern) cities, is narrow, immune to local realities, favours privatization and consumerism.  The government denies the poor and labouring classes a voice and so does the media which regularly lets the elite air their views on rebuilding the city, sprucing up the environs and generally uplifting the urban aesthetic but rarely asks the poor and the marginalized their opinion on the future of the city. These are the poor who are already paying a price for a botoxed Mumbai .

Worse still, by repeatedly using language that describes them as “encroachers” and by paying more attention to the illegality of structures of the poor than to those of the rich, slum dwellers – who number seven million and form 60 per cent of Mumbai’s population – are constantly treated as being less than full citizens. According to sociologist Sharit Bhowmik, slums, which occupy less than 8 per cent of the city’s land, are projected as the cause of most, if not all urban problems. Yet high-rise apartments cause greater strain on public utilities (drainage, garbage, water and so on) as their consumption is much higher than in the slums.

‘Vision Mumbai’ is blinkered because it is the vision of only a select few. It has blanked out the voices of the city’s other stakeholders, namely slum dwellers, the poor and the working class. And across all groups, it has neglected to hear from the city’s women. If all these constituents were given a say in the new vision for Mumbai, they would surely paint a different image for the city.

For the last two years, PUKAR’s Gender & Space project has been talking to women across Mumbai about what they want from the city. Not surprisingly, they want ordinary and basic needs to be met first – mainly access to water, toilets, low-cost housing, livelihood, efficient3public transport systems, quality schooling and childcare, open playgrounds, and safe public spaces.

*A case in point is the Maharashtra government’s recently announced Urban Renewal Commission to kick start Mumbai’s journey to becoming a ‘world class’ city. People appointed to it include several private sector head honchos like Deepak Parekh, Anand Mahindra, Jamshyd Godrej, and Noel Tata. But it has no representatives from organizations that represent the city’s poor, its workers and its women.

 * To accommodate the new developments in the city, roughly, 90,000 shanties were razed in the early part of 2005, displacing over five lakh people, almost all of whom are yet to be rehabilitated. The demolitions disrupted schooling for thousands of children, and increased problems relating to sanitation and health for women. Several hundred hawkers were also removed from designated non-hawking zones. In fact, the attempt to wipe off the poor has even gone as far as trying to disenfranchise the by deleting their names from voter registration lists.

Sameera Khan is a Mumbai-based activist and journalist. This piece originally appeared in the Mumbai Reader 2006