Mumbai is the third densest city in the world trailing just behind Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka and the Pakistani city of Hyderabad, as per latest data. Starved of much land area, India’s financial capital has crammed in, on an average, 32,400 people in every sq km of its land area.
This is one ranking the bursting-at-its-seams city cannot gloat about. Especially when its counterparts Kolkata, Delhi NCR, Bangalore and Chennai fare way better at ranks 171, 174, 250 and 243, respectively, according to the 2015 Demographia World Urban Areas report.
Mumbai’s draft Development Plan (DP) 2034, the recently released twenty-year city blueprint, is set to compound the situation further. The BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has, in the plan, proposed more than a three-fold increase in the total residential built-up floor area. It has done so by significantly increasing the Floor Space Index (FSI) across the city. FSI, also known internationally as FAR (Floor Area Ratio), determines the total built-up area allowed on a certain plot area. Higher FSI allows for more construction, which in case of space-constrained Mumbai, has to be always vertical.
Based on its findings that affluent areas of South Mumbai, with higher FSI, are less dense than the crowded and horizontally spread-out slums in the suburbs, the draft DP has concluded that “there is no direct correlation between FSI and density”.
Urban planners have not only found this premise facile, but have also labeled it as being symptomatic of the DP 2034’s fundamental failing in that it prioritises liberalising supply of real estate space over creation of affordable housing, open spaces and social and physical infrastructure and conservation of Mumbai’s quaint heritage structures.
“When total floor space that will be built in a city is divided by the low average per capita floor space occupied, it would obviously mean more density,” said urban planner Shirish Patel. As per existing land use plans, the average floor space per capita in Mumbai is 9 sq m, the availability being as divergent as 1 sq m to 5 sq m per capita for slum residents who account for nearly half the city’s population while the richest decile, on an average, occupy 26 sq m per capita. “Those who make a case for high FSI in Mumbai often cite the case of Manhattan which has a FSI of 15. But in Manhattan, the per capita floor space is 55 sq m with lesser people occupying more space. Thus FSI 15 in Manhattan is almost equal to 1 in Mumbai unless the BMC thinks that houses created using this increased FSI will be only large apartments for the rich,” said Patel.
The city presently has a standard FSI of 1.33 in South Mumbai and 1 in the suburbs. However, over the last 20 years, the Urban Development department has tinkered with norms to allow higher FSI of four and above as a special case for various kinds of projects. The Draft DP 2034 has weeded out room for such manipulations but at the cost of uniformly hiking the FSI to between 2.5 and 8, granting more construction rights in areas closer to already crowded mass transit corridors. Also, developers will be charged a sizable premium for this extra FSI, a cost that they will pass on to the home-buyers.
The arithmetic aside, the increase in FSI doesn’t make any provision for affordable housing with the assumption that more supply will, on its own, bring down prices. However, this theory has been belied by the fact that Mumbai currently has 1.5 lakh odd unsold houses in all of its new residential projects put together and yet the average weighted cost of an apartment in Mumbai is a prohibitive Rs 3 crore.
The draft DP does make a lip service to inclusionary housing by mandating that builders with projects on plots over a certain size should hand over 10 per cent built-up area as smaller sized apartments to the BMC for mass housing. However, it has not earmarked any land for the housing board to create public housing. “Countries such as France, Canada, Italy and the US have up to 25 per cent inclusionary housing while Spain has 50 per cent. These houses generated in the private sector are in addition to the social housing provided by the state,” said Patel.
Protests from all quarters over the draft DP forced Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to direct the BMC to revise it. However, his orders pertain to rectifying the many errors in the plan without asking for an overhaul of the fundamental FSI regime proposed in it. His predecessor from Congress Prithviraj Chavan terms the emphasis on granting higher FSI for areas closer to transport corridors as short-sighted. Chavan argues for a polycentric growth for Mumbai which involve creation of several more areas along the lines of Bandra Kurla Complex.
“There is a need to reduce the load on transport corridors and not congest it further. Integrated housing and work spaces allow for walk-to-work concept,” he said. Chavan added that developers often point towards Hyderabad as an example of an Indian city that doesn’t place any cap on FSI. “Hyderabad doesn’t have to deal with the complexities of several slums, buildings and little space for support infrastructure as in case of Mumbai. FSI needs to be increased with a cap in Mumbai but there is also a need for an increase in physical infrastructure, schools and hospitals. Also, housing cannot be left to private builders alone, land has to be reserved so that public housing can be provided by the state,” he said.
Proponents of high FSI often cite the case of other cities like New York, Chicago and Singapore, all of which have 12 to 15 times more FSI than that of Mumbai. However, none of these countries are saddled with the crushing densities of Mumbai that already has its infrastructure straining at its leash.
Merely 1.37 sq m per person of space has been reserved for education and 0.38 for health, both way below national standards. Open space availability per person (pp) is proposed to be increased from existing 1.24 sq m to merely 2 sq m which is nowhere close to national norms of 10-12 sq m pp. In global cities with high FSI such as New York, it is 26 sq m, Chicago 17.6 sq m and Singapore 7.5 sq per person.
The BMC has blamed the deficiencies on space crunch; however, the UDRI has found that 6,784 hectares of vacant No Development Zone were converted into residential-commercial zones, large chunks of land that could have been used for creating open spaces and other amenities.