Maharashtra govt to allow more growth on a given plot area, and let affordable housing be built in former No-Development Zones and salt pan land.

Mumbai: There are 31,700 people living in every square kilometre of Mumbai, putting the metropolis at number two in the world after Bangladesh capital Dhaka, as per UN-Habitat data. And going forward, the population density is only likely to increase, with the Maharashtra government’s new development plan boosting the permissible construction area and unlocking vast tracts of land for housing.

After much delay, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis sanctioned a Development Plan for Mumbai that will govern the city’s growth until 2034. In doing so, the Maharashtra government has increased the commercial and residential Floor Space Index (FSI), allowing more growth on a given plot area, and unlocked ecologically sensitive land to create 10 lakh affordable houses in a city with skyrocketing real estate prices.

While the government is yet to put the entire revised plan in the public domain, it released a list of highlights Wednesday.

The major changes

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Maharashtra government has increased the FSI in commercial zones to a maximum of 5 and raised the permissible construction limit in Mumbai’s island city to 3 from the current 2.5.

FSI, also known as the Floor Area Ratio, refers to the ratio of the total built up area to the plot area. So, an FSI of 3 on a 10,000 square feet plot will allow maximum construction of 30,000 square feet.

Nitin Kareer, principal secretary of the urban development department, emphasised how the FSI limits are the maximum permissible. “A commercial FSI of 5 and an FSI of 3 in the island city will not be applicable to every property. The FSI will be linked to the width of the road abutting the plot. The widest roads will get the maximum FSI,” he said.

Moreover, the government has also decided to open up 2,100 hectares of land currently designated as No-Development Zone (NDZ) and about 330 hectares of salt pan land in the city for affordable housing.

The increase in FSI and the opening up of more land for housing had been a long pending demand from the real estate industry, which is of the opinion that this is the only effective answer to pull the sector out of its slump and cater to the city’s rising housing needs.

The state government will also soon formulate a policy for transit-oriented development, enabling more construction within the influence areas of mass transit corridors, officials said.

More FSI could mean unplanned growth, say experts

However, some town planners have sounded the alarm, worrying about the impact on the city’s already-crumbling infrastructure and the civic bodies’ possible lack of control on burgeoning growth.

Urban planner Sulakshana Mahajan said: “The uniform FSI increase will lead to further densification, and it will all be unplanned. You will never be able to really manage all that has been created, neither can you provide infrastructure. A plan has to give a future picture, but this plan gives a blurred picture of the future.”

Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute, said: “Increasing FSI cannot be done without a substantial understanding of the reasons, the manner in which it is to be done, the level of infrastructure, the additional requirement and so on.

“We will know when we actually see the Development Plan if the ramping up of FSI is based on the carrying capacity of areas. Otherwise, increasing FSI in areas that are substantially developed will only lead to more Elphinstone stampede-like situations.”

While government officials cite examples of cities such as New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong, which have towering high-rises and an FSI of about 15-20, Mahajan said unlike Mumbai, these cities do not give anything free of cost.

“These cities are very expensive to maintain. Take the example of parking; in Mumbai, you cannot charge fees to the level that they should be charged. In New York, authorities charge about $12 per hour for parking. Here it is completely disconnected,” Mahajan said.

Moreover, experts say, the per capita floor space in cities like New York is much higher than in Mumbai.

A previous draft of the plan, which urban planners had also severely criticised, had proposed a variable FSI, ranging from 2.5 to 8, with a higher density around mass transit corridors, and linking it to the availability of physical and social infrastructure. The plan, riddled with errors, was eventually scrapped.

Affordable housing is key

Unlocking NDZs and the ecologically sensitive salt pan lands has also been criticised by planners and environmental activists.

Incidentally, BJP’s bitter ally Shiv Sena, a constituent of the Maharashtra government and at the helm of affairs in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, has also severely opposed the plan to open up sensitive areas for housing.

However, Madhav Pai, director of Embarq India, a sustainable development consultency, said an increase in the permissible construction area could be beneficial for Mumbai, as long as it translates into more affordable housing and more investment in the city.

“We have not seen a significant growth in population in either the island city or the suburbs in recent years. So, the move might be good if it ends up in more square feet per capita. Also, eventually, an increase in FSI will have to translate into more housing for the economically weaker sections and lower income groups,” he said.

Pai added that commercial areas too need to be developed after identifying the needs of different sectors. “It cannot just mean 30 malls that will one day stop functioning. Just building glitzy offices and IT parks is not going to work either. The decisions are good, but the government needs to create enabling conditions for the market to respond to its needs,” he said.

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