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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.

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((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