Protecting waterfronts even as development continues in Mumbai
Real Estate

Protecting waterfronts even as development continues in Mumbai

In a move that is expected to push development of high-rises closer to India’s coastline, the Ministry of Environment has approved the Coastal Zone Management Plan. How does this impact the land-starved Greater Mumbai, with its huge demand and not enough space to enhance supply? Now developers in Mumbai can build just 50 metres away from water lines along the coast.

Land-starved Mumbai is the seat of a hot debate on balancing development with protecting eco-sensitive zones and preventing ingress of sea water into the city. E Jayashree Kurup speaks to developers and experts about the fine balance required.

In a move that is expected to push development of high-rises closer to India’s coastline, the Ministry of Environment has approved the Coastal Zone Management Plan. How does this impact the land-starved Greater Mumbai, with its huge demand and not enough space to enhance supply? Now developers in Mumbai can build just 50 metres away from water lines along the coast. Land-starved Mumbai is the seat of a hot debate on balancing development with protecting eco-sensitive zones and preventing ingress of sea water into the city. E Jayashree Kurup speaks to developers and experts about the fine balance required. The move has the potential to alter the city’s skyline. National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO) Maharashtra President elect Sandeep Runwal estimates that there are at least 5,000 buildings in South Mumbai alone that have been stuck in Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ). Overall, in Greater Mumbai there are about 25,000 buildings up for redevelopment, Runwal says. He believes this new plan, offering an FAR of 2.5-3, is an opportunity for the city for planned redevelopment for three reasons – it is transparent, there can be no exemptions, and nobody has any power to interpret the rules and standards. However, Runwal stresses that it is important for creeks, mangroves and marshes to be meticulously documented and protected. “There should be no deletions allowed,” he stresses. Environment activist BN Kumar calls the move “anti-people”. The move would ‘destroy mangroves and mudflats’ across the island city, he says. These natural barriers keep the sea from ingress on land and protect the water side localities. Since these are rich in fishes and molluscs, the fishermen communities depend on these natural habitats too. Kumar cautioned against treating flood lines with impunity. He referred to the increased frequency and quantum of floods in the city. Examples include the 2019 incident where a train full of people were caught in flood waters in Badlapur in Thane for over 19 hours and the flood waters reaching the upscale Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) the same year. His solution is to stop developing the island city and switch attention to the suburbs. “With infrastructure upgrades, the travel time between Uran onwards to the main city has reduced to 20-45 minutes. That should allow development of the suburbs,” said Kumar. He also said the authorities have a callous attitude towards wetlands and water lines. “They need to stop announcements like: the 300-acre Panje are not wetlands; and the Parsec Hills are not to be protected.” Developers, on the other hand, celebrated the announcement. Ashok Mohnani, President NAREDCO Maharashtra, puts it succinctly, “The decision by the authority to approve the plan has been in favour of the developers and their projects in the MMR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region). Earlier redevelopment of slums near coastal areas posed a serious challenge. This approval therefore, has come as a huge relief for the developers. We anticipate that the construction activities in these areas will be in full-swing ensuring a further facelift of the city. The problem here is the basic tension between eco-sensitivity and growing pressures on land in one of the most densely populated cities in the country. In this year’s pre-monsoon study, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority (MHADA) found over 14,000 buildings in a very dilapidated condition, most of them in South Mumbai. While the tenants who were asked to vacate are moved to transit camps, the land on which these buildings stand is eyed by land-starved developers for redevelopment. And rightly so, as demand has peaked and end-user buyers are even purchasing for upgrades. But not all the noise around the CRZ was because of the developer’s need. Runwal gives the example of the Bombay Port Trust premises, which can get a facelift much like the Canary Wharf area got in London. “They should just get a good architect, environmentalists and urban planners and come up with a robust redevelopment plan with waterfront marinas, jetties and promenades, the likes of which are not present in India. With more land coming up for redevelopment with enhanced FAR, more housing at more affordable rates are expected in the city,” Runwal says. Managed waterfronts are better than regulated poorly managed ones, he adds. The western suburbs have many drivers for development as a residential hub. The metro has already made its appearance. Many other infrastructure projects are making commuting easier here. Navin Makhija, Managing Director, The Wadhwa Group, says, “The land-starved city of Mumbai has a pool of old dilapidated buildings that need to be redeveloped. The decision will open up several land parcels for redevelopment benefitting the real estate industry. The north corridor of the western suburbs has drastically evolved with the help of infrastructure reforms and demand driven by homebuyers. The upcoming Metro lines, easy access to the Western Express Highway and the Coastal Road will be a game-changer for this location in terms of driving demand.” In addition, there is proximity to the airport and the business hubs in Andheri and Bandra Kurla Complex. With demand as a driver, there is a clear mandate to develop. However, there are also increasing extreme weather events that have taken place in Mumbai – seven this monsoon, prompting the city’s municipal commissioner, Iqbal Singh Chahal to declare that 80 per cent of wards in the city are flood prone. Add to this the fact that seas are rising because of melting glaciers, the city’s antennae need to go up. Mumbai has joined the C40 group of cities in late 2020 and has also pledged to make the city climate resilient. Ahead of the COP26 climate discussions in Glasgow, the city has also launched the MCAP, Mumbai’s Climate Action Plan. Clearly, development with managing the environment is a balance the city has to find. The base Floor Space Index was 1.33 in the island city and 1 in the suburbs. With the approval of the CRZ Management Plan, it will go up to 2.5-3. BMC will give nods to new buildings only after notified maps are approved. This could well take another couple of months, Runwal says. The 1:5000 maps have to be made to scale, approvals and guidelines have to be drawn up and the policy itself has to be streamlined. In the meantime, integrated urban planning, involving citizens, environmentalists, developers and city authorities is important. Laws, when well enforced, can achieve the desired results. E Jayashree Kurup is Director Wordmeister Editorial Services, Real Estate & Cities. She specialises in real estate research and policy advocacy.

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