In Mumbai, public open spaces are the largest casualty of unplanned development, while mapping of existing land use denies the existence of rag-pickers, naka workers and street hawkers

Staggering growth has cost Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, its availability of open spaces. While these have been found to be abysmally low in comparison to major international cities, the near absence of institutional memory in recording changes in land use has aggravated the problem.

While New York City has free space of 7.20 sq m/ person, London has 4.8 sq m per person and Shanghai 9.16 sq m/person, Mumbai has only 0.9 sq m/person free space. This is despite the fact that the Municipal Corporation has added promenades, gymkhanas, forests and beaches as open spaces.

“Public open spaces are the largest casualty of unplanned development and substantial changes in land development,” Pankaj Joshi, executive director of Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), said during his presentation at a joint meeting of civil society members and urban planners.

The planners expressed dismay at the MCGM’s (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) systemic failure to compile data about the changes in land use in the city till now. Mr. Joshi said that there is a great disconnect between the demands and aspirations of people and what the Corporation is actually doing for them. “According to our survey, people want housing, education, health, water supply on priority. But the Corporation is doing something else.”

Questions were also raised on the current mapping of Existing Land Use (ELU). Experts said that the non-recognition of marginalised groups like rag-pickers, naka workers and street hawkers, exhibited the society’s collective denial of their existence.

“People and planners will have to admit that there will be some points where the waste, which is being thrown out of the houses or shops or set-ups, will be separated. There is a serious problem that we are not learning from our past. We have to mark spaces for sorting of waste,” Mr. Joshi said, adding that apart from lacking in marking such already existing places, the ELU also has many discrepancies when compared with the old Development Plan.

Despite the presence of storm water pumping stations, railway lines, metro and monorail tracks stations and car sheds, rag-pickers’ units, e-waste disposal sites, the ELU has shown the land allocation as zero. Planners said that the record is alarming and that the civic body should modify it so that it reflects the true land allocation.

The meeting highlighted the measures that need to be taken immediately to participate in the making of the Development Plan for the city in 2014, with the aim of creating a more efficient, equitable, inclusive and open Mumbai. The MCGM is in the process of revising the existing Development Plan of Mumbai. It will be ratified in 2014.