Shirish Patel Image

“I’m not interested in beautifying cities” – Shirish Patel

Hussain Indorewala in conversation with Urban Planner Shirish Patel, on making of the city, transformation and politics of development.
Shirish Patel Image

Mumbai’s most prominent urban planner and civil engineer, Shirish Patel has been both an agent and critic of the city’s growth and transformation. After studying engineering from Cambridge, his early work was on big dams – the Kariba dam on the Zambezi River (dividing Zambia and Zimbabwe) with a French firm, and later on the Koyna Dam in Maharashtra. He started his private civil engineering firm in Mumbai in 1960, but his intellectual interest extended to all aspects of the urban built environment. In 1965, along with Charles Correa and Pravina Mehta, he published an article suggesting the idea of New Bombay, and later worked on the project in the City & Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) for its first five years, initially as Technical Advisor, and later as Director of Planning & Works. Over the decades, he has emerged as the voice of social justice planning in Mumbai, and his thoughtful ideas, criticisms and alternatives have been published in the form of numerous academic and popular articles, touching upon various issues such as  slum evictions, recycling industrial land, urban floods, Dharavi, BDD Chawls, the Coastal Road, FSI policy, among others. Recently, he has published a two volume book titled 6 Metros, along with architects and urban planners Oormi Kapadia and Jasmine Saluja.

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to visit him at his residence at Carmichael Road, to talk about the city that has consumed him for most of his life.

[Hussain Indorewala]: It is not widely known that the New Bombay idea began as a critique of the first Draft Development Plan of Mumbai that was published in 1964.

[Shirish Patel]: When the Draft Development Plan for Greater Bombay was published [in 1964], Charles [Correa] and I met and had one look at the plan and felt it was really quite hopeless, mainly because it stopped dead at the boundaries of Greater Bombay. We asked what happens immediately beyond and they said that’s not our problem, we’re the municipal corporation and we can’t care what happens beyond our boundaries. That seemed such a stupid thing. Plus it was obvious that Bombay would grow to the east, because the Thane-Belapur belt had already got several industries there, the Thane-Creek road bridge was already under construction, and Nava Sheva port was being thought of as a deep sea port as an alternative to Bombay. So it was clear that like it or not Bombay would grow eastwards and we said why not make it a planned development, instead of the kind of mess that we saw then in Ambernath and Ulhasnagar. So we wrote that article, we got Pravina Mehta also involved, but her role was marginal. We wrote that article [in the June 1965 issue of Marg magazine], peddled it, everywhere, talked to anyone and everyone who would listen, for five years. And they all listened politely and said “haa haa..what a good idea” and nothing happened.

And then, [chuckles] one day, and I remember this very clearly, we were at a swimming pool –  Charles and Srinivasan (Chinni we called him) and I – with our children, all about the same age, jumping around. And talking about New Bombay, Charles said to Chinni, you know…”if people like you don’t do anything, how do you expect anything to happen”. Chinni was an IAS officer at that time, and he had invented and set up SICOM, the State Industrial & Investment Corporation of Maharashtra, the first of its kind in the country, and he decided to take this on. He was an amazing fellow…to get what he wanted, he would maneuver and use every wily method that he could. He found out that the Chief Minister was traveling to Nagpur by train, so he got himself on the same train, and spent two hours with the Chief Minister, convinced him about New Bombay, and set up CIDCO as a subsidiary of SICOM, a very simple way of getting it going. About 345 sq km of land was notified for acquisition. I think CIDCO was set up in March 1970, with J B D’Souza as Managing Director. In June 1970 D’Souza (Bain as we all called him) asked me whether I would take charge of planning New Bombay. I said yes. I knew Charles would be very upset if I was Chief Planner, so I said I will not take that designation, call me Technical Advisor, and let’s get on with it.

So we started. Bain and I were quite like minded in many ways.

We agreed immediately that urban planning was not an architectural or engineering enterprise. It needed to be multidisciplinary. So we set up a Planning Team.

We had Charles as the architect, Bain and myself,  K P Battiwala as an engineer, Kirit Parikh as an operations research specialist, [PB] Medhora from ICICI as the economist, M S Gore from Tata Institute – he was the Director then – as a social scientist, and Vijay Tendulkar, as a citizen, as a person who has no special qualifications but who would provide good inputs. So this was an eight person planning team. We met once a week for the entire day on Mondays for the next two years to work out what New Bombay should be. That is how it started.

[HI]: So when you think about New Bombay today, how far did it deviate from the early conceptualization of it?

[SP]: [laughs] There is a lovely story there. Umm…25 years after New Bombay started in 1995, TISS called a seminar to discuss New Bombay. [M S] Gore was still alive at that time, he had retired, but he was there at the seminar. A week before the seminar I’d given an interview, and I’d been asked how many marks I would give to New Bombay on a scale between 0-10 and I’d said three. And somebody asked me later why three, and I said because New Bombay has succeeded in one fundamental dimension and that is its financial success.

We said we will develop this city with no fresh financial inputs other than the seed capital, all we want is the land. So on that measure, it had completely succeeded. But on the others I thought it had failed.

Anyway, Gore gets up in the seminar and says, “you know”, in his very quiet, precise academic voice, “I think Shirish has been very unfair in giving New Bombay three marks out of ten. I would have given it…four” [laughs]. He lived in Vashi in New Bombay by the way, so he was judging it more precisely.

We had a number of ideas when we started, which we thought would get implemented. We started a number of studies, and one major study we undertook was the study of industries in Maharashtra. They were very heavily concentrated in the Bombay-Pune region. The brief for the study was, where should industrial location happen, where should industries ideally be located.

The point for the study was, look at the industrial activity in Maharashtra, make some projections, and tell us where these should be located, to minimize costs. Taking into account not only the costs to the industry but the cost to the government of the infrastructure it provides for which it doesn’t really charge the correct amount, and tell us what we should have as a policy.

The results of the study were quite interesting. They said that industries group into four categories. They have a lot of interaction among themselves within each category but not so much with indsustries in other categories. The four categories were power intensive industries which should be located in eastern Maharashtra to be near the coal mines, the best location for power generation; the chemical industries which should be along the western coast to have easy access to water supply and effluent disposal; the textile industries which should be located in the cotton growing areas of Maharashtra; and the engineering industries which were footloose and could be located anywhere. The only industry that had a rationale to be in Bombay was ship breaking. Nothing else.

Based on what the report said we decided that what we should do for a particular type of industry is pick a center, any center, focus on all our subsidies on it and encourage growth at that center. And when the population level at that center has increased to five lakhs then you withdraw that subsidy incentive and take it to another location. That’s how ideally industry would get well distributed across the state instead of being concentrated in Pune and Bombay.

So we sent this recommendation to the state government saying that if you implement this policy, it will not only give you more balanced industrial development of the state, but you will have two million less population to deal with in the Mumbai metropolitan region by [the year] 2000. That was what the study suggested. It was quite clear to us that this was the sensible thing to do. What happened then was that the government took a decision to forget all this, to encourage all industries to be in Mumbai because they were afraid that otherwise industries would go to Gujarat.

So at that point I said there’s no point in continuing. If I can’t influence the basic things that affect urban concentration, I’m not interested in beautifying cities, so I resigned.

As an afterthought I think that was a mistake but that’s a separate issue. So I was there for five years. In those five years we implemented some ideas in Vashi, [but] we couldn’t implement everything. But many things never did get implemented the way they had been thought of by the planning team.

“I'm not interested in beautifying cities” - Shirish Patel 1
1965 – Bombay Planning and Dreaming, © Marg Publications, 1965

[HI]: Could you talk about your CIDCO experiences – what were the planning ideas you helped introduce?

[SP]: We developed a few major concepts. One was that development should take place in a series of nodes along a high capacity transit line, that’s the railway. And these nodes should be two and a half or three kilometers apart. And you should have high FSI or high concentration of population near the station and then lower and lower FSI as you go further and further away. And then open space between the two nodes and then again the same pattern repeats. We said this would not only make for a more interesting urban form but it was logical in the sense of giving people minimum travel time from origin to destination. That was not accepted by CIDCO, I don’t know why. After I left, they had a uniform FSI of one. I don’t see the rationale of that at all. You own all the land. You can sell each parcel with its accompanying FSI. You realize that value and what’s the problem in having varying FSI? That’s one important possibility that was lost, for no reason.

The other thing we said and this we implemented at Vashi, was that you must accommodate all income groups if you want no slums, you must provide accommodation for all categories of housing and if necessary, sites and services for the poorest, in proportion to their numbers in the population. That is important.

Then we also said that land for these income groups should be cross subsidized. The higher income people pay more for their land, the lower income people pay less and on balance you come out with a surplus but it has to be cross subsidized. At the lowest level people pay for their construction cost. That you can’t avoid, you should not subsidize, but the cost of land you can subsidize from zero to whatever to make it financially viable. That also has been lost sight of now in Navi Mumbai. In the early years CIDCO did provide housing for lower income groups more or less in proportion to their presence in the population but more recently I think that is not the case.

[HI]: One aspect of the earlier public housing layouts which was remarkable was that apart from being a mixed-income schemes, they had different building types (G+1 or G+2) for Low Income Group (LIG) and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) housing, versus mid-rise apartment blocks for Middle Income Group (MIG) housing. Now the approach has dramatically changed – apart from the fact that resettlement townships are predominantly low-income housing, these schemes try to maximize units on a given land area. Densities in SRA projects, that are now predominantly mid-rise or high-rise – can go as unbelievably high as 1200 tenements per hectare. The assumption seems to be that sites and services schemes are no longer feasible for a city like Mumbai city because they take up too much land, or to put it differently, the densities are not high enough for a so-called land-starved city [although arguably Mumbai is deliberately and artificially “land starved”].

[SP]: I don’t think densities are too low on sites and services developments. In fact I would argue for a uniform habitation density across the city for all income groups. Do not unbalance it because as soon as you start giving low intensity construction like this [pointing to the neighborhood, Carmichael road] you are enlarging the city. You are making travel times more difficult. So this should not be allowed. You need to have, I would say, a common density across the city. Once you do that, and if you have a common density of something like 160 or so dwelling units per hectare you will find that you can accommodate low income people in ground floor structures only, expandable to ground and two upper.  So they move from 250 square feet to 750 square feet by adding floors and at the same density you have high rise apartments which house much larger flats and the same number of families per hectare. So if you take this basic premise as a guideline that residential densities will be uniform across the city I think you will solve this problem.

[HI]: You’re 91 years old, and have lived here all your life. So how have you seen the city changing in all these decades? Do you think about it more in distinct phases, or is it gradual and continuous change? What kind of periods would you identify?

[SP]: Disaster. Well, it’s been taken over by developers, and I think the government is run by developers. One of the reasons I left CIDCO, incidentally, apart from this industrial location study not being accepted, was the fact that the government was selling plots at Nariman Point, coordinates in the sea. We were supposed to attract people into New Bombay. The government had said no to shifting the Mantralaya. We said, all right. But to sell plots at Nariman Point? While we were supposed to develop New Bombay? So it didn’t, obviously it didn’t have the kind of political support the project needed for success. That’s why I left.

We were able to get that stopped by the way. There was a writ petition filed by Piloo Modi and Baburao Samant against the Nariman Point development. Very interesting…Ashok Desai, who argued this petition for us, had a very interesting precedent to quote. And this was that in England, the trustees of a foundation had to sell some property, and they were on the brink of selling it when somebody came in at the last minute with a higher offer. And the trustees said, “no, this has come too late, we cannot accept it.” And they gave it to the earlier bidder. This was appealed, and the judge finally held that it is no business on the part of trustees to act like gentlemen. They have to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries.  So we argued that and said, “government is a…you know…the owner of public property. This property has to be auctioned. It cannot be let as you are doing within a 24-hour turnaround period.” So that was accepted, that it had to be let. And that stopped that Nariman Point development. It can resume. I have no doubt that builders will finally bring enough pressure to bear that this will also be developed and similarly up and down the coast.

[HI]: Now there is a large slum-redevelopment project coming up in Cuffe Parade by Shapoorji Palonji. And in 2018 there was a proposal to reclaim the Back Bay to make an open space there.

[SP]: It will never remain an open space, we have seen what happens with open spaces…it’s just a pretext. The same open spaces here [referring to the Hanging Gardens] they will never remain open spaces, they will get nibbled away. The city is run by developers…every politician I know has a major interest in a development company.

[HI]: But even during this period that you are talking about with the Nariman Point case, those forces were at play even at that time. So what has changed between the 1970s and today?

[SP]: First of all, I think the major change is that earlier bureaucrats, well certainly J B D’Souza and V Srinivasan and I think there were many like them, were concerned with public welfare. And they understood that their function was to stand up to politicians when necessary and to protect the public interest. I think that has gone. I don’t think the bureaucrats today…I haven’t heard the word public interest in discourse for the last 20 years. There is no such thing.

[HI]: Oh well, they do say that the Coastal Road is in the public interest…

[SP]: Oh that is [laughs] motorcar interest. It is not the public interest. Its just a joke, it is a whitewash…trying to give it a whitewash.

But there is no real protection of the public interest anymore on the part of the bureaucracy.

[HI]: So now I come to questions about planning. The most obvious but unasked question, how do you define planning?

[SP]: I think planning begins with a declaration of values. You need a written statement of the objectives you’re going to pursue. And I think that should be widely discussed and mandated. It should be like the Constitution of India. If possible, it should be legislated so that it’s justiciable. We declare these values, and then proceed further. Everything else follows, policies, projects…everything else follows.

But the declaration of values is the first and most essential step and currently completely ignored as being unnecessary.

[HI]: And those values could be anything.

[SP]: Whatever you want. I could state, for instance, that I expect housing to be provided for all income groups in proportion to their numbers in the population.

[HI]: What you’re saying essentially is that planning is actually a rational exercise, a relationship between means and ends. I want this, this is how I get there.

[SP]: What I want is the first step. How I get there is tested and evaluated against that declaration. Whether what I’m doing is consistent with what I’ve declared as my objectives is something that can be questioned.

[HI]: They come up with these grand phrases, such as the ‘world class city’ the ‘city of the millennium’ – which obviously don’t count as values or goals.

[SP]: Such as? Oh, they’re too vague. They’re too vague. You can’t do vague. These have to be declarations of intent, which can be monitored, where progress can be evaluated. It can be assessed in certain ways. You can’t say that I want all citizens to have a better quality of life. That’s meaningless. What does it actually boil down to, in specific terms?

[HI]: Your contemporaries like Charles Correa had more of an urban design orientation to planning, or Mr. Vidyadhar Phatak, who has a more economic orientation to planning, but you have always argued for a welfarist orientation to planning. So how would you describe your own approach as a planner? And is my comparison correct?

[SP]: Charles’s [Correa] was a more architecture-oriented approach to planning. Phatak I think is completely convinced about the…markets being the ultimate solution. I don’t agree. Markets need to be regulated. The land market in particular needs to be regulated differently, as Singapore has shown. My approach to planning is very simple. You know, if you want to plan something,  surely it’s obvious that the first thing you do is set out a brief. What do you want? And agree on that brief. That’s where it begins. That’s where every project begins. Every policy begins. What do you want? Declare that. Say so explicitly. Get it agreed. Legalize it if possible. Make it justiciable.

[HI]: I recently came across a letter that you had written to Times of India, 1975. You objected to the demolition of 1000 homes from Cuffe Parade and relocation to Deonar. You said that “[clearing] hutments or moving them to where they cannot be seen is no answer to the problem of slums in our cities. It is jobs that must be regulated.” You argued that instead of moving people, you should disperse jobs elsewhere, because people live close to where the jobs are. You gave examples of service providers who live in close proximity to richer areas in the city. But the reason I bring this up is because there is a perception among activists and academics that planning is a top-down activity, and that planners generally are insensitive to people’s needs, especially the needs of the poor. I once heard you arguing that planning may be top-down, but it need not be anti-poor. So, what do you make of this debate within planning?

[SP]: It is not necessarily always top-down. It happens at different levels. There are certainly two different levels at which planning has to take place. First of all, and above all, I think you have to declare these intentions. The next thing that happens is you evolve projects, you invent projects, and you invent policies, which are what planning is all about. That implementation then, and the more detailed planning, occurs at a lower level, at a local level. For example, in a city, I don’t think the planning of the transit systems can be done at a lower level. It has to be done overall. Planning of water supply, planning of sewage disposal, sewage treatment. All these are large projects, and they have to be across the city. So that part of planning is definitely top-down. Then it comes to more detailed planning. When you come to an area plan, I think that is a plan which should be discussed with local people.  There should be a second level of planning, which is where the details can happen. Where you decide the width of footpaths in relation to the width of carriageway, paving material for the footpath, all that can be done at the second level. It should not be central. Definitely should not be central, because people’s needs are different. You cannot have one-size-fits-all regarding footpaths, for example.

So planning needs to be split in that area, between what is essentially, overall, general planning and more localized detail.

We should not get into the centralized detailed planning even of land use. That this school should be in this location. As long as there is a school in that locality, it doesn’t matter where it is.

“I'm not interested in beautifying cities” - Shirish Patel 3
Mumbai Sealink © Hussain Indorewala

[HI]: You were the person behind the first flyover in Bombay, the one at Kemps Corner. Now the city is full of flyovers, sea-links, highways. Infrastructure planning in Mumbai today is largely supply driven, and traffic growth-biased. The World Bank has said that these projects appear to be “socially regressive and financially unsustainable.” What do you think about this current…

[SP]: It’s crazy [laughs] what’s happening in Haji Ali, have you seen? It’s just gone mad. I don’t think the Kemps Corner flyover was part of any kind of grand solution. It was just a difficult intersection. The municipality invited tenders for a flyover there. I think flyovers make sense where there is an intersection with a great deal of traffic in one direction. And obviously if you can segregate that cross traffic from this traffic, it will flow faster. That’s when a flyover is justified. You have to be careful about how you plan flyovers. And I think on something like the Western Expressway, a flyover should not be in the central area. It should be on both sides. So that you can have a bus route…a high capacity rapid transit system on the central part. But this kind of nonsense that’s going on over here is really bewildering. So please, the fact that I designed the first flyover in the country is not to be held against me [laughs].

[These projects] have to be shown to be in the best interest of the public. And what’s happening now on the western coastal road is demonstrably against the interest of the public. It’s against the interest of the city. It will damage the city. As it is, the city is divided, I think, in economic terms, between west and east. This will accentuate that. The wealthy people will live only along the Western coast.

Your clubs are there, restaurants are there, medical facilities are there. You don’t need to go into the horrifying eastern side of the city.

[HI]: About the metros that are being built in Mumbai. Some critics have argued that the metro should be underground because overground metros ruin the skyline of the city. But making a metro underground has functional advantages, as you connect parts of the city that weren’t connected before. But the Mumbai metro system, other than the Line 3, are all overground, on arterial roads. So what do you make of the planning of the routes of the Metro system?

[SP]: Well, I think the planning has not been satisfactory at all…planning of the metro routes. The metro routes ideally should open up new connections and new areas for development.  What has been followed instead is a model which says, let’s evaluate the ‘demand.’ And if the demand is for north-south traffic, let’s satisfy that ‘demand.’ So the alignment is determined by the existing pattern of the route. What Mumbai needs much more is east-west connections and cross-traffic possibilities. I don’t think the present metro alignments allow enough cross-movement. They don’t accentuate that. And one thing I cannot understand…or I can understand…but I cannot absolutely justify at all is the fact that there is a proposed line from Colaba to Seepz, the one that continues into the Aarey Colony [Line 3]. Now why can’t that continue into New Bombay? What’s the problem? Because, builders in the city do not want New Bombay. That’s one place where they have no land. They have delayed that Nava Sheva bridge for decades. One of the silliest explanations I heard was that there is no contractor willing to quote for this job. Obviously you’ve put in conditions such that no one will ever quote. But they don’t want New Bombay. They don’t want a connection to New Bombay. When it happens, it will be a road bridge. It will not be a rail bridge.

[HI]: I asked the MMRDA chief recently, that the earlier proposal for the Trans-harbor Link included a railway line and a road. And then they started talking about a Metro and a road. Then they dropped the Metro as well. So I asked him why aren’t you building a metro on the Trans Harbor Link. He said it’s not practical and it’s too expensive.

[SP]: It’s utterly practical. It’s done all over the world, come on. It’s done in India. We’ve just done one in Jaipur. Here they don’t want a connection. In fact, they want to minimize the possibility of east-west connection.

[HI]: Slum redevelopments in Mumbai award land to property developers rather than slum dwellers. So, what would be the alternative approaches to housing slum dwellers in the city?  And if you can talk a little bit about the adverse possession, why do you think it’s an important concept?

[SP]: Adverse possession is a legal way of giving title to people who have actually been living there without objections from the landlord for 20 years or in the case of the government, 50 years, whatever. But I think the important issue is not adverse possession. It is that…what should the government do with government land? How should government land be used? The best example is BDD Chawls. Government wants to use it to make a profit. Its basic objective is maximizing financial return. It is not interested in the local residents. They have to be rehabilitated because otherwise they won’t cooperate. But as long as the government gets money the residents can be rehabilitated it in any manner to the detriment of their health, because they don’t understand what’s happening. And I’m saying that the BDD Chawls is an area which is devoted to low-income housing. Let it continue to be devoted to low-income housing. The residents themselves will redevelop it. They will get 500 square foot flats instead of their present 150. And they will get a cricket ground and a football ground if the planning is properly undertaken. We’ve worked that out. So it’s a question of what rights does the government have over public land? That’s the central issue. And if it should be used in the public interest, then demonstrate to us how it’s in the public interest. They say it makes money and therefore that’s in the public interest. Well, I don’t think so.

You’re not counting the damage to health and open spaces that more concentrated development brings. It is definitely not in the public interest.

“I'm not interested in beautifying cities” - Shirish Patel 5
SRA Rehabilitation © Hussain Indorewala

[HI]: You mentioned BDD Chawls. But now you have the greatest example of that coming up, the Dharavi project. What’s interesting is the first time that a private company has become a major planning authority in the heart of the city.

[SP]: I don’t think Dharavi will happen. It won’t happen. Too large a number of people to be displaced…[maybe] this is what the government wants. But at some point I think people will resist this kind of…being pushed around. I hope so.

[HI]: Rent control is a question that you have written on. And I read your paper, which is very interesting, because the debate before you wrote your paper was if you remove rent control, suddenly people won’t be able to afford their homes anymore, their rents anymore. On the other hand, people don’t want any reform on rent control. So you suggested that lets first understand how rent control properties are divided among different income groups and then gradually reform rent control. And then keep a subsidy but linked to market values of land. Can there be a different way of thinking about it, where one doesn’t talk about the market value of land, but speaks about rent control more from the perspective of the upkeep and maintenance of property and the margin for whichever authority is involved in doing it, rather than linking it to the land market? Would that be another way of thinking?

[SP]: On rent control, if you want buildings to be repaired and maintained, rather than demolished and reconstructed – and I think 85 or 90% of rented buildings in Bombay are better repaired than rebuilt – if you want that to happen, you have to give landlords close to the equivalent of market rents. In New York, it’s around 80% of market rents. They have rent control. We should move towards that. What we could do is move over a five-year period towards market value. And for those who can’t afford this, and this has to be done on a family-by-family basis, you have a system of housing subsidies, housing vouchers, which the US has, South Korea has, many countries have housing vouchers, for low-income people who can’t afford rents. But the properties themselves are virtually freed from rent control in the sense that  they can get up to 80% of their ownership market rent. You have to move towards this, otherwise buildings in Mumbai are not going to be maintained.

[HI]: There’s a lot of political pressure to retain rent control. And it also seems that one of the reasons why rent control is retained is because it gives people no way out but to redevelop their properties, which works then in the interest of property developers. It seems that because the government wants to promote redevelopment, they are not reforming rent control. Because if you reform rent control, people may want to repair their buildings instead of opting for redevelopment.

[SP]: So it’s developer driven. Developers are interested in redevelopment. They are not interested in rent control. They are not interested in the tenants. They want some way of taking up projects and demolishing and rebuilding. That’s where the money is. But that’s true of everything that’s going on, isn’t it? Some months ago there was this proposal to demolish about 30 bridges as being unsafe and rebuild them. And luckily we were able to persuade the Municipal Commissioner to appoint a committee to go into that. And we found nearly all the bridges perfectly safe. There was one bridge in particular from Juhu to Santa Cruz, which they wanted demolished. It was absolutely all right. It could be restored with very little effort. But the MCGM wants to rebuild it. That’s where the money is. Now they want to rebuild this reservoir [Hanging Gardens]. You’ve heard that. Declared it unsafe. It’s not unsafe…I don’t think it’s unsafe. If you want to repair it, it can be repaired. I’m absolutely sure of that. But they are not interested in that. They want redevelopment. And this is all a justification. Pretense. So if people are in favor of rent control in order to take up redevelopment, there’s very little you can do about that. I don’t know how one will fight this…[scoffs]

We need to have a Chief Minister who turns things around. I don’t see much hope as long as our government is developer run. On any of these fronts.

[HI]: TDR in Mumbai began in a small way. And then it kind of snowballed. And you can clearly see that there are parts of the city which generate TDR and parts of the city that absorb it and so on. The old school way of thinking about planning is that we should have a handle on how the city will grow, and how many people in which area, so that we can provide for services and infrastructure and so on. And TDR completely messes with that. So if we must have TDR, what kind of TDR policy should it be?

[SP]: Well, a TDR policy should be severely restricted as it is in New York. Let’s say a heritage building requires repairs which are going to cost money and we want to compensate the owner with TDR. But that TDR cannot be used anywhere. It is connected to a particular site where it can be reused. That connection has to be made. It has to be site by site. It’s a planning issue. It should be restricted to things like heritage buildings which need to be preserved. Where else do you want TDR? What for? I will release this property for public use provided I am allowed to build something at a particular location in exchange. That’s it. It is not a tradable commodity at all. It’s a plot to plot connection. It is the only way it should be used. If we make a plot to plot connection, I think it would work well. How you would get rid of the existing TDRs, I don’t know [laughs].

[SP]: I recently published a paper called DCR33. The paper discusses how the first draft of the development plan which came out in 2015 was scrapped…and essentially what they did after ‘revision’ was to revert the 1991 planning scheme. The regime of incentives and exceptions that are built into the 1991 Development Plan has been expanded overtime, and has been expanded even more in the 2018 Plan. The argument of the paper was that the 2015 plan was scrapped because it tried to push back against this regime of ‘incentives and exceptions’ – FSI incentives and regulatory exceptions. Well, they failed, and now the [2018] Development Plan is basically a Redevelopment plan, with DCR33 as its centerpiece. And what is interesting is that the DCR33 was initially introduced in 1991 as an exception in special cases. And now the chapters on exceptions have become the rule, taking over the entire planning process. Now do you see any possible way of reforming Mumbai’s planning system?

[SP]: I don’t know what you can do about it. This is…I don’t see what you can do about the existing city. I think all you can worry about is how to plan extensions, if at all. Because this…I don’t see how you will get away from the developers’ grip on how the city develops.

I mean, FSI is a dreadful, dreadful way to manage and control building construction. Terrible way. And it has taken over as the only instrument of building control. Nothing else matters. Light, ventilation, space around buildings, none of that matters. Only FSI matters.

And that is so disgraceful. Because FSI is an outcome. In New York, it’s an outcome of your regulation regarding spaces, heights, etc. And then you have a consequent FSI. And there are some numbers limiting what you can do with FSI. But FSI is not the starting point. Here it is the beginning and end of everything. How much floor space can I build? Regardless of whether it’s environmentally, physically…medically viable or not. I don’t see this changing. I think you have to forget about Bombay.

[HI]: That was the next question. In 20 years, projections suggest that the city is almost certainly going to be unlivable due to sea level rise. I think that’s right. I want to ask you seriously, as somebody who has been a planner for so long…we really have a serious issue.  It is not going to be enough to build sea walls to prevent flooding and so on. One will have to think about relocation. Not just few people who can invest elsewhere and afford to fly out…but also for the millions of people who live in low-income settlements. And it will have to be at an unprecedented scale…relocating so many people. How would one even begin to conceptualize this challenge? How would you go about it?

[SP]: I think…It’s complex because of employment and livelihoods…and where these are located. I don’t think there’s any example of this kind of thing having been done anywhere. It’s a tough one. It can’t be a…[long pause] It can’t be a one-shot exercise. It has to be gradual. That’s the only way it can happen.

Urban growth is concentrated in tier 2 and tier 3 centers. No way we can improve or recast tier 1 cities. Not possible. Forget about Bombay. Forget about Pune. Forget about Nashik. Look at all the smaller towns we have. Kolhapur, Sholapur, you know, Ratnagiri. And just plan those very carefully. Plan them to locate employment centers.

Have incentives for industry to go there. I think they could be made attractive locations…for that kind of activity. And I think the first step in doing all that is mapping each of these places. I don’t think we’ve done that. I think we should just carefully map each of these towns. And there are enough architectural and engineering colleges around the state to be able to undertake a serious mapping exercise, in which above all you identify the important locations you want to preserve. Whether it’s a temple or a grove of trees or whatever, you identify all those things you want to preserve. Map the area. Lay out transit lines for growth. They may or may not happen here. But you lay them out and freeze them. No new construction happens on those [transit] sites. And if it happens, it can be demolished without compensation. So I think the only way out is that. And automatically, if the centers become attractive, people will move away, as the population of the island city is declining. So people will move away in larger numbers. I think that’s the only way to do it. Nothing you can do in Bombay will help. And I don’t see that happening.

Featured Image: Shirish Patel, Urban Planner and Engineer. Image © Mumbai Mirror’

2 Responses

  1. Felt extremely sad by the end that feeling of giving up on Mumbai :/. The city could have been India’s time to shine on a world stage. Money corrupts after all and we have given the developers a free hand in doing things for their own desires. How have other global cities managed to free themselves from the grip of their developers and the money for greater public interest?

  2. Excellent article but the title needlessly misleads…
    While describing in good detail the developmental challenges faced by the city of Mumbai, the article covers no discussion about what beauty is or what it means to have beautiful urbanism (good architecture and urban design combined) that enhances not just daily human experiences but also makes urban areas function better. Nor does the article say anything about why beauty is fundamental to humanity’s sense of well being and as an extension, why it’s needed for good urban design.
    Instead, the article primarily gets Sirish Patel to address the myriad historical and current issues faced by the city. While there are always complex, overlapping challenges in the design of cities whose effective solution may rake precedence – the article mentions only once that Sirish Patel is against city beautification, if basic things affecting urban concentrations are not addressed first.
    Besides, as implied in the article, city beautification, per se, need not be taken as an afterthought in the planning of cities. It can be an integral part of urban area planning built into the process from the start. This has been demonstrated successfully across the world in major cities like New York, Vancouver and Paris through effective urban design policies and guidelines.
    So, to draw focus on city beautification alone in the title is both misleading and inappropriate.
    I think a more fitting title could have indicated how there is no future for the city of Mumbai – for all the right reasons discussed very well within the article. After all that’s the main takeaway from the article – given that a 91-year old, highly respected planner with decades of planning experience for Mumbai and its surroundings, has given up on the future of the city.
    However, I believe good urban design (not beautification, per se) can still be an effective tool to revitalize and improve even a city like Mumbai, incrementally.

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