Will We Ever Get the Mumbai of Our Dreams?

April 9, 2012 7:52 am by

Carter Road.

If you have yet to make it to the “Open Mumbai” exhibit currently on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art, we suggest you do before it closes on Sunday, May 6. The exhibit, after all, represents the city of our dreams, one that lays out, in seductively rendered form, a Mumbai of green spaces, wide, non-potholed roads, emerald forests and sparkling waters. So what are the chances of this actually happening? P. K. Das, the architect behind this ambitious plan, tells us that the exhibit has already attracted the interest of Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray, the mayor, and several other local corporators, who are apparently committed to making it a reality. Das, who was responsible for the beautification of the Carter Road promenade and the clean-up of Juhu Beach among several other areas in the city, sat down with us to talk about the project. Edited excerpts:

The budget for the Open Spaces plan is estimated to be Rs2,389 crores.
Yes, that’s right but with riders. If we have, say 15 elements that constitute the masterplan of the open spaces network in the city, then three of them are not included in the cost. Number one is recreational grounds, playgrounds, gardens and parks. Why we did not include the cost of those is because they are part of the Development Plan. The corporations’ responsibility covers their maintenance and development. The second is the railway stations project. This is a voluntary project of creating roof plazas over railway stations. As you know railway stations are owned by the Railway Ministry, they don’t come under the state government or the municipal corporation. So that cost is an independent cost that we’re discussing with the Railways and the state government. And the third is the idea of roads and pedestrian avenues. In the exhibition we’d suggested many roads which are major trunk roads of Mumbai should create one lane dedicated to walking and cycling. So the conversion of those parts of the road to walking and cycling is a cost that we assume will be covered under the road project by the municipal corporation. Leaving out these three areas, the other 12 elements that we’re talking about would cost about Rs2,500 crore.

The BMC budget for 2012-2013 has earmarked just Rs250 crore for open spaces, of which half of that has already been put aside for tree pruning and the revamp of the Byculla zoo. Is the government serious about making this happen?
Not till now. As it seems from this open spaces budget announcement, it seems certainly that the corporation is not serious. In fact the budget has dropped from last year for open spaces, if you take away the zoo. But we have always firmly believed that public movements, citizen movements must exert pressures on government. And governments then get influenced and take change for the better. Now to give you heartening news—as you know the exhibition has been visited by almost everybody, also by Uddhav Thackeray, who is head of the Shiv Sena which is also the ruling party of the corporation. It was also visited by the mayor, the standing committee chairman, the commissioner, and so forth. After their visit, they committed to creating another head and increasing the budget for open spaces. Which is possible because the budget is still getting formulated.

Let’s talk about the Marine Drive beautification. It’s been stalled after phase one. And you said this was because it was done unilaterally by government agencies without the involvement of private citizens. What’s it going to take from our side to make “Open Mumbai” happen?
Well, you know some of our projects exhibited in the Open Mumbai exhibition demonstrate new ways of urban governance. The exhibition has broadly two parts to it. Part A covers projects executed by us already in different parts of the city and our learnings from that and part B picks up on those learnings and replicates it to other areas to evolve finally the Open Mumbai plan. In the first part, which talks about projects that have already been executed, we’ve already established a tripartite formula for raising of funds for public projects. For example, with [the Bandra] Bandstand, you have the corporates, you have the citizens and you have the BMC. All three work together, all three fund together, but at the top of the pyramid are the citizens. It’s not like the corporate sector had a direct agreement with the corporation. For our past experience has not been good in that. Many private agencies have manipulated and misused that position to appropriate, colonise and barricade public spaces. What we’re saying is when the citizens are at the helm of management and governance then funds are regulated collectively in public view and public knowledge and public control.

There was a similar issue with the Gateway of India beautification project. You drew up one plan. Charles Correa had drawn up another. INTACH, the organisation that commissioned your plan, then commented in the papers that the beautification project was badly executed by the BMC.
Let’s separate two things here very clearly. The Times of India coverage was very mixed up. Firstly, let me keep the Charles Correa plan out of the discussion. It is rather silly at this point to bring the Charles Correa plan back into discussion. There were two plans—one made by Charles Correa and the other by me, through the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). And the government of Maharashtra after many deliberations chose our plan for a very simple reason. The Charles Correa plan suggested building a road across the plaza of the Gateway of India; and we talked about expanding pedestrian and public space by doing away with the manicured lawns that occupied most part of the Gateway of India. So the key difference of the two plans was motorisation versus pedestrianisation. I think it was only because of that reason that this plan was chosen.

Coming to the other point, because a job is badly executed, quality cannot question the objective or idea or concept of the plan. This particular project was executed by the Bombay Municipal Corporation. The state government passed it on to the corporation, the corporation executed it. Now I don’t need to elaborate the shortcomings of municipal projects. The other way of monitoring better execution of public projects is to involve local area citizens to monitor the implementation. So they do a quality check, they monitor contractors’ work, they raise objections when there are problems.

The exhibit concludes that the “Successful achievement of these plans and proposals will also require necessary amendments and provisions in the Development Plan and DC Regulations”. Is the government working on changing the DP? How feasible is this?
I rather put a question to you. What do you mean by saying that. Why do you think it’s not going to be feasible.

Because the government has failed in many regards.
The government can only act as I said due to public pressures and this exhibit has already demonstrated a very major pressure on them. So the state government and municipal governments and political parties are already turning their eye to this proposal and the DP is under revision.