Builders reel off redevelopment pain, activists hail gains
MUMBAI: The Supreme Court judgment insisting on adequate space around buildings at the ground level in Mumbai both as recreational areas and to allow fire engines smooth passage has sent most developers and architects in a sulk.
Construction of public parking lots — builders can get more FSI for a plot if they provide space for the public to park — and even captive parking in residential buildings would be adversely affected, they complained. Also, redevelopment projects in the island city — mostly small plots — would not be feasible unless the 6-metre passageway on one side of a building for fire engines rule is relaxed.
“A major part of development in the city and suburbs involves redevelopment projects alone and unless there is relaxation in the open space norms, they will not be feasible. There has to be some equity in regulation,” said architect Manoj Daisaria. The ruling’s impact will be felt most in the B and C wards, covering Masjid Bunder, Bhendi Bazar, Sandhurst Road, Dongri, Kalbadevi and Pydhonie, where pre-1960 buildings abound in narrow lanes, he added.
Environmentalists and activists hailed what they called a landmark ruling. “It is the first judgment that has taken a holistic view of all aspects of urban infrastructure, including ensuring better quality of life,” said architect and urban researcher Neera Adarkar, adding that the SC has done what the government has failed to do: protect the citizens’ right to a healthy and safe environment.
“When it was difficult for fire engines to reach a highrise in a tony part of the city recently, one can only imagine how much risk people are put to in the far more congested parts where old buildings stand cheek by jowl on small plots,” added Adarkar.
Agreeing with Shyam Divan, counsel for the Urban Design Research Institute, the judges had struck down a rule allowing 1.5m passages in redeveloped buildings, saying it “violated the very right to life” of inhabitants of such plots where even 20-storey towers could come up. “There has to be adequate space for manoeuvring fire tankers,” the SC said, adding that redeveloped buildings must get a nod from the city fire chief.
Building owners in the B and C wards have lined up with applications for reconstruction, but most of them stand on small—less than 600 sq m—plots, said Daisaria. The SC’s insistence on 6m passageways will hit them.
“The government has to come out with a new policy. It would have to insist on amalgamating adjoining plots or take up redevelopment for such small plots itself in the interest of the occupants and also fire safety,” added Daisaria.
Counting their gains, activists hailed the SC direction that the state ought to review the height of buildings in relation to the width of the closest road and look into the availability of civic infrastructure, including water supply and drainage facilities, while drawing up the development plan for the city for the next 20 years.