200 Acres of Open Space for Mumbai

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The mill land redevelopment plans got an unexpected shot in the arm today. I had emphasized for a greater allocation of public space and a fresh look at the way land was allotted to Matoshree Realty. In a stunning reversal of fortunes for the mill land owners and developers, the Mumbai High Court decreed that almost one-third of the mill land will be reserved for open space, thus granting the city the provision of a breathing space. As the DNA article aptly puts it, Mumbai’s lungs have expanded by almost 200 acres and in land-crunched Mumbai that indeed is a largesse.

Additionally, the court also stipulated that another one-third of the land would be reserved for public housing or affordable housing, which also according to me, is a welcome step. Affordable housing has never been dealt with seriously in Mumbai. Mumbai’s burgeoning slum population is almost begging for an urban planning solution. Moving the slum dwellers “elsewhere” is not only unjust but also infeasible. Rajiv Gandhi’s grandiose scheme Prime Minister’s Grant Project (PMGP) failed miserably because slum dwellers sold the houses alloted to them and moved back to the slums. Hopefully, the public housing projects will be approached with a sound sense of socio-economic realities of Mumbai.

Opponents to the decision are citing reasons of higher prices due to constriction of supply (an economist’s argument) and although they may be technically right, the long-term benefits for an improved standard of living will only help the city’s health but also make Mumbai more livable for its 13 million-plus residents. Environmental and health costs aren’t factored into the opposition’s arguments, which I am sure are significant in this case. Building shopping malls and high-rises and then selling them off to the highest bidder without laying down the supporting infrastructure is planning suicide. Let us hope that the court’s decision prevails and the mill lands are developed after accounting for the city’s health and its citizens’ opinion.