Thursday, September 04, 2008

Battle for Mumbai's skies set to begin

Times of India reports

Mumbai: The skyline of congested areas in Mumbai like Girgaum, Grant Road, Bhuleshwar Nagpada and Parel could soon be filled with thousands of skyscrapers sprouting from every nook and corner, thanks to Thursday’s supreme court ruling.
The order comes as a major bonanza for builders because it once again allows them virtually unlimited floor space index (FSI) for redeveloping old, mainly pre-1940 cessed buildings in the island city. In 2005, the Bombay high court, which had admitted a PIL filed by some prominent Mumbaikars, had restricted this use of unlimited FSI on the grounds that it was leading to haphazard and unabated construction activity. The high court had observed that this rule had led to ‘subversion of urban planning’.
“Although the supreme court ruling will facilitate redevelopment of old and dilapidated cessed buildings, it will put pressure on civic infrastructure,” said a worried municipal commissioner Jairaj Phatak. However, he was confident that the island city will be able to cope up with this construction spree if the redevelopment is carried out in a proper manner.
When old buildings are torn down and rebuilt into towers, the space between two skyscrapers could be as little as five feet or even less. Mumbai’s development control rule 33 (7), which pertains to the redevelopment of cessed properties, gives sweeping powers to the municipal commissioner to relax the mandatory open spaces surrounding a building to five feet.
In congested Girgaum, opposite the Harkisondas hospital, a 38-storey tower is virtually kissing another 22-storey high rise next to it. In Nana Chowk, a pencil thin skyscraper has cropped up almost touching the adjacent building.
Over the past decade, many such residential towers as high as 30-40 floors have started springing up in areas like Girgaum, Nana Chowk and Grant Road where the civic infrastructure is already in poor shape. In fact, Mumbai’s tallest residential building, the 45-storey Shreepati Arcade at Nana Chowk, was redeveloped under rule 33 (7).
On Thursday, property redeveloper Pujit Agarwal of Orbit Corporation was ecstatic as several hundred redevelopment projects were in a limbo ever since the PIL was filed in 2004. “The Supreme court judgment has come as a relief for the entire island city, especially the two million tenants living in such buildings. Over the past eight years, we have all undergone a learning curve,” he said.
Rajesh Vardhan of Vardhaman Developers said the judgment has come at a time when several dilapidated buildings were crumbling, leading to loss of life. “Hopefully, today’s ruling will lead to systematic development,” he said.
Agarwal said that henceforth the BMC should ensure it does not condone the compulsory open spaces and in only exceptional cases, should it relax it to five feet. “The state housing authority, MHADA, should carry out due diligence to ensure that the list of tenants is not inflated by any builder in order to get more FSI. Thirdly, developers must be encouraged to go in for cluster redevelopment,” he added.
The Property Redevelopers Association said more than 500 proposals for redevelopment of cessed properties are pending with Mhada and BMC. “The pace of rehabilitation will now increase,” it said.
Four years ago, in a PIL filed by the late J B D’souza, urban planner Shirish Patel and civic activist Cyrus Guzder against the “misuse” of 33 (7), they pointed out how some builders inflated the number of tenants to avail extra FSI.