Hafeez Contractor's take on redevelopment of Mumbai's cessed buildings
The most common reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing higher density clustered redevelopment of the dilapidated parts of the city is that it will be a disaster leading to total infrastructural collapse. Nothing could be more further from the truth. I believe the exact opposite can happen and this policy is nothing short of a saviour for the city of Mumbai. It is a win-win situation for all stakeholders and is in fact a pragmatic way to finance infrastructural upgradation and urban renewal.The city of Mumbai has some 19,642 recognised dilapidated (cessed) structures. The actual figure could be way higher. As we know, nothing was done about them for a number of years for a variety of reasons, leading to an average of 200 buildings collapsing every year and killing hundreds. So it is downright criminal for anyone to protest the redevelopment of these decaying parts.The plan will give free homes to residents of these tottering homes, residents who today live in miserable conditions. It will also add to the much needed housing stock of the city where over 50% of the population doesn’t have access to formal housing. It will also transform the blighted urban core of the city. It can be a way to create superior infrastructure, better roads, wider pedestrian ways, larger open spaces and more car parks.But most importantly it is set to create a platform for the city to generate funds for its revival. It will increase the area’s tax revenue by almost 300 times. Currently, the average monthly taxes per square foot in these areas is around 10 paisa, which will increase to three rupees after redevelopment for residential buildings and nine rupees for commercial buildings. Further, the policy stipulates that the developers have to pay an advance of 80 rupees per square foot before starting the development as part of the infrastructure development charge which will help initiate the infrastructure upgradation process.The funds generated will not only help upgrade basic infrastructure but will allow the city to invest in education, healthcare and culture, all essential to make it a world-class city.Mumbai can thus be self-sufficient and not have to constantly hold a begging bowl and ask for funds from the central government and international development agencies. It also paves the way to pay back the three-billion rupee debt we have already raised. By ignoring the problem and letting the city stand still, we will be causing more horrific damage. In the next few years, we not only have to house over 50 per cent of the city (some 9 million people) that has no means to formal housing today, but we also need to create housing for millions of others who are projected to flood Mumbai.The contention of the anti-development lobby seems laughable when you think about the larger benefits. There is this talk about how it’s going to be a builder bonanza and a way for a handful of politicians to make pots of money. This cliche has been long used as a recipe to destroy the city. Remember, the developer will make more money in the current market than in a market where there is a logical supply and demand. A market of scarcity like that of Mumbai offers more scope for corruption. The answer to transparency and accountability of the administration is not to stop all development.Again, the talk about how redevelopment will cause congesting screams of timidness. We don’t want to be called a city of cowards who want their city to be frozen in time. These are challenging times and they calls for revolutionary solutions. The policy as such is not flawed but, yes, it can go terribly wrong if one doesn’t leverage the opportunity intelligently. The manner in which this idea is put into practice is purely an urban design and planning prerogative. Why can’t we use this as a way to re-orient the city in a positive manner rather than focus on how it can potentially ruin the city?Also, in today’s times we need to focus on revival through redensification rather than creating new satellite neighbourhoods on the periphery.Urban sprawl incessantly consumes thousands of acres of forests and farmland that are detrimental in the long run. Urban sprawl also makes public transit systems ineffective and encourages auto-dependent communities, thereby increasing our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to put our minds to work on innovative ideas to drive this massive rejuvenation in a positive manner rather than working out strategies on how to freeze the city in time.