ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Myopic Development

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY In its recent judgment, the Supreme Court has allowed the commercial redevelopment of five National Textile Corporation (NTC) and 26 other private mill lands, overturning an earlier Mumbai High Court verdict that had ruled this

In its recent judgment, the Supreme Court has allowed the commercial redevelopment of five National Textile Corporation (NTC) and 26 other private mill lands, overturning an earlier Mumbai High Court verdict that had ruled this “illegal”. The ruling “frees” up 600 acres of real estate land in the city’s centre, and also upholds the 2001 amendment of the Development Control Regulation (DCR) 58, which had allocated a three-way division of “open space” between mills, the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). At the same time, it has left “open” the question of settlement of workers’ dues, suggesting that workers’ associations could approach the appropriate forum, i e, labour courts or the Mumbai High Court. The ruling means that the NTC would now be able to sell 10 more of its mills, while redevelopment of 32 private mills in central Mumbai areas can go ahead according to revised DCR rules. (The earlier rules had included the built-up land in the three-way division and, thus provided more for low-cost housing and the maintenance of open spaces.) Concomitantly, the ruling also ensures that the city will now get only 71 acres for “green space” and other low-income housing projects, i e, less than one-fifth of mill land area in central Mumbai will go to the BMC and MHADA. However, this area is not in one consolidated stretch of land that could have allowed for planned development as the 1995 Charles Correa Committee envisioned, but is spread in bits and pieces across the city and in the suburbs. Had the original DCR 58 framed in 1991 been persisted with, nearly 400 acres would have accrued to the city for developing open spaces and housing projects. Ostensibly, the judgment was made to stimulate development of prime real estate land in central Mumbai, which for decades had been lying unused or tied up in legal wrangles. The SC’s mill land ruling is of a piece with its rulings in recent months that have favoured adherence to the imperatives of town planning, which Myopic Development in effect, has come to represent a lopsided development that offers little hope for the marginalised sections. In its December 2004 ruling, for instance, the SC upheld the eviction of the ‘gowallas’ (milk producers) association in Bhubaneshwar after the Orissa government had backtracked on its promises of relocation, as their occupation was “unauthorised (and)…in areas meant for planned development.” Urban planning has, until recently, been largely an opaque process with little citizen participation. The recent SC ruling is also in line with current ambitions of governments at the centre and in Maharashtra that seek to develop Mumbai as an Asian regional financial centre (RFC). As recently as December 2005, the union finance ministry had set up a committee to recommend measures to develop Mumbai as an Asian RFC. In the short term, debate will rage as to what impact this will have on realty prices in the city; more crucially, however, the ruling will have a major impact on future urban development in the city and on citizens’ lives. The deluge of July 26, 2005 had exposed the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Currently, the city’s acute power crisis is being met by measures that appear at best short term. In an example of startling contradiction, even as the Mithi River Authority notified over 6,000 establishments as unauthorised and illegal, the most expensive real estate deal was sealed in the Bandra-Kurla complex, a business hub created specifically by encroaching and building over the river’s natural drainage area. With its overwhelming focus on “development”, the state government and city authorities still do not have in place a comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation programme to assist the displaced; the abysmal conditions in transit camps designed to “temporarily” house the evicted, is an obvious example. The mill land ruling will perhaps ensure development – of a “certain” kind while it threatens to erase a period of the city’s history and marginalises an entire section of its populace. Weeks before the SC ruling, groups of laid-off mill workers and chawl dwellers, who comprise

the area’s older residents, had protested over deteriorating conditions of living that include irregular water supply, crumbling infrastructure and their own fears of displacement to high-rises in more distant suburbs that would, in turn, entail higher maintenance costs. A similar story of marginalisation in the face of development is being enacted in other Indian cities as well. The West Bengal government has declared its avowed intention of removing rickshaws from Kolkata’s streets and in her recent book on Bangalore, the country’s top information technology hub, Janaki Nair notes the many building violations that were allowed to hasten the “operationalisation” of the Koramangala IT corridor. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly March 25, 2006

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