‘Plan for MMR has no mention of flood control measures’

We are creating dormitory towns in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, not sustainable communities, says executive director of Urban Development Research Institute

The severe flooding in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) last week has brought into focus the design and planning of the region, which has seen tremendous growth in population and real estate in the last few years. The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Plan 2016-36, which has been in the making for six years, has drawn significant criticism from urban planners, activists, environmentalists and local residents. Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the Urban Development Research Institute (UDRI) Mumbai, speaks to The Hindu about the chinks in the regional plan with respect to flood mitigation and the focus on real estate-led development instead of job creation.

The MMR has been growing rapidly in the last few years. How do you look at the growth?

The MMR is witnessing much faster development than Mumbai. The total area of Mumbai is 437, while that of the MMR is 4,312, almost 10 times bigger. In 2036, Mumbai will [have a population of] approximately 11.9 million, but the MMR [whose population was] less than five million in 1991, will be close to 20 million by 2036. Because of unaffordable real estate in Greater Mumbai, many people, especially young families, are preferring areas like Vasai, Virar, Kalyan, Badlapur, Ambernath, Panvel and Uran Phata. The demographic shift has been to the polycentric MMR while jobs have remained in Greater Mumbai, having residential centres like Mira-Bhayander, Vasai-Virar, Boisar-Palghar emerging in peri-urban areas. On other side, it is Vasind, Asangaon, Kasara and Neral, Vangani and Badlapur.

How is the flooding in the MMR different from that in Mumbai?

Mumbai has an age-old mechanism of storm water drains and pumping. Most of the urban areas in MMR have no such facility available and we depend only on natural forces like rivers, canals and creeks to take care of logged water. So if a river is flooded, there is no other way for water to recede. Flood control mechanisms are non-existent. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), though functional for decades, has done very little for flood control in the MMR in the past and to further exasperate the situation has not even reviewed implementation of the earlier regional plan before proposing a new one for the period from 2016 up to 2036. In a bid to maximise building construction, we have not left space for water to percolate in green cover or recede in our rivers. It requires serious regional planning as well implementation.

Recently, the Mahalaxmi Express was stuck near Wangani due to the floods, which was unheard of before. What could be the reason for such flooding?

We are constructing buildings and raising the ground to avoid water from entering these buildings. At the same time, railway tracks cannot be raised. Thus these low-lying tracks become routes for water to collect and flow. We had witnessed the same phenomenon in Kurla and Wadala in Mumbai, but here in the region it is at a larger scale. Most land was agricultural in Wangani before, which is now used up for buildings. Hence, areas which no one thought would be flooded are experiencing it.

Why is the MMR witnessing such huge growth in real estate?

The real estate is anticipating change in demography in and around MMR. The amount of housing that has already been created in this anticipation is more than what we see in Mumbai, where despite its 437 area, the actual area that can be used for residential purposes is less than 200 On the contrary, the MMR is 10 times more. The regional plan is opening this area, but not in a planned way.

What are the objections to the regional plan?

The Maharashtra Region & Town Planning Act, 1966, very clearly talks in Section 14J about proposals for flood control measures. The proposed regional plan for the MMR has no reference at all to any flood control measures. We are actually risking lives. The plan is not conforming to the statutory requirements for preparation of a regional plan from the MR&TP Act, 1966, where you have to make proposals for flood control. It is criminal, when people are investing their life’s income into a house which most certainly will go down under floods. Secondly, in the plan, out of prescribed 31 land uses, the urbanisable zones has 25 uses and ironically green zone has 28 uses, including industrial use. As green zone has more uses than urbanisable zone, it will no longer remain green. And that is precisely why the situation in coming years will become much worse by rampant opening of green zone where there are presently lakes, open spaces, water bodies, trees which are absorbing rain water. Many of the growth centres are being planned are on green fields, river beds and environmentally sensitive sites. For example, Kharbav growth centre on Ulhas river bank, Khopta is on mangroves. This is more of a land grab than job creation. Someone must have already invested in this land and converting it into industrial use would mean manifold hike in the land prices. The regional plan has [put excessive emphasis] on real estate as a driver of development. It is based on the assumption that real estate will trickle down to develop the area. No real impetus is given to job creation or livelihood enablers, resulting in people living here in flooded conditions with long and crowded commutes to Greater Mumbai for jobs. We are creating dormitory towns, not sustainable communities. You may create a few new Metro lines to travel, but it also means that you are not creating job centres in the region, but far way in Greater Mumbai. These are very unsustainable forms of development.

Is climate change responsible for flooding?

There have been a number of objections to this regional plan submitted to the MMRDA. But the real estate lobby wants to open up the land in a piecemeal manner. With the ever-soaring land prices in Mumbai, only big developers can afford to build in [the city]. So the new playing field for rest of the builders is MMR. You cannot blame everything on climate change. Lot of it is man-made. We are worsening the conditions by not taking cognisance of these man-made interventions.

What is the present status of the regional plan?

Many organisations, along with UDRI, across the MMR have raised serious objections to it, but those were heard by the same people who had prepared the plan. Which officer will agree to his own mistakes? We don’t know what has happened to all these objections. We understand through an RTI query that the regional plan has been submitted to the State government for final approval.

Will the MMR face such floods in future as well?

Flooding is becoming an annual phenomenon. It is bound to continue as we are neither learning from mistakes nor planning for the worst. We are in for major punishment. Remember, this weekend the Arabian Sea dumped 80 tonnes of waste on Marine Drive. The environment will not spare us.

Are we lacking in political will to find a way out?

Most of these environment scenarios can be modelled and worked upon. The problem is storm water drains remain under the road and cannot be shown as a visible achievement, while a Metro line can. The money spent on Metro lines will be on display for voters. Political economy knows this. So, more than political will, I think, common sense is required. Bad cities are bad for business.

Who is going to be the sufferer?

The urban poor always face it first. The slums, small shops, farmers and marginal workers. For us, it will be an inconvenience, for them it will be a disaster.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 11:36:05 AM |

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