The MbPT and Mill Lands in Mumbai
Pblished by JANATA (weekly), Mumbai
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 The MbPT and Mill Lands and the Waterfront in Mumbai

 

The news about the amendment dated May 9, 2002 to Maharashtra Regional and Town planning Act [MRTP Act] appeared in the media after six months, with comments by some nameless officials. The amendment is an invitation to plan and execute townships by the private sector, and the government is facilitator. The MRTP Act has been based on democratic principles, where the citizens have right to scrutinize any act or plan and raise objections, if any, that heard in public by an arbitrator, before the plan is enacted, i.e. a plan becomes an act of law . Any dubious clause could shatter the objective.

 

      MbPT and Textile Mills – working or now defunct and abandoned – have been important part of the national economy and assets, irrespective of their present or past ownership. The MRTP Act is good enough instrument to deal any time with any land such as MbPT land or the land of defunct textile mills, which is an issue for quite some time in Mumbai. In fact the instrument of MRTP Act could have been enacted immediately on the closure of the mills, to take over the premises for redevelopment under town planning schemes, except for the apathy of the experts, planners and the citizens. Apathy of the politicians and administrators is known.

 

The two major lands in question must also be viewed in the context of ten millions plus people of Mumbai, of them more than six millions are living in the subhuman conditions of slums and in the dilapidated chawls. in the island city itself, and of course those who will join the city in future.

 

The first principle is “a city is common property of its inhabitants. The astronomical value given to central city land arises solely from the fact that it is at the hub of the activities of millions of people” (Ref: Colin Ward, ‘Welcome Thinner City’, Bedford Press, London, 1989, p.1). Colin Ward emphasizes, “The abolition of poverty is worthy aim… but the yardstick by which to judge the success or failure of inner city policies can only be the extent to which they enhance the opportunities – whether in housing, work or education – of poor city dwellers (Ibid. p.13). It points to the rehabilitation of the workers who were rendered jobless by closure of the mills, and their families. It may even mean to restore the mill and warehouses for education through industrial training institutes, polytechnics, and to train the people to start cottage industries. The another immediate need is to keep the land and buildings for transit camps for the people who lost their houses for various reasons – floods, riots, house-collapse, war, earthquake etc. in future.

 

We, of course, know that the vested interests, while giving inflated talks on such issues, would block the sane and viable planning action facilitated by the act. This is not new. But there are also examples of planning action and implementation here in India in the interest of the citizens and their city.

 

Development Plan of Baroda (now Vadodara) City (mid-1960s), did freeze a major part of the palace estate measuring one square mile of the Maharajas in the centre of the city and reserved it as a green zone for the city. A part of this area is being used for the city’s bus service. Few months after the Development Plan of Baroda City was enacted, the Privy Purses of the princely states of India were abolished by the President’s Ordinance. Of course, the Gaikwads – the Maharajas of Baroda – have been people-worthy.

 

Another event (late 1960s) in Vadodara City: 2000 families became homeless in the flash flood of Vishwamitri River; their shanties and belongings were washed off. Vadodara Municipal Corporation rehabilitated them in six months at five different places in and around the old city. Each settlement was given a community centre (900 sq ft each) built from the donation of Rs 75,000/- by the Baroda Productivity Council. This was possible for two reasons: First is the political will of the citizens, and second, there was ‘open land’ available in the times of calamity. Similarly, earlier the refuges during the Partition, were also given land to live and work in the city.

 

If the planning action under MRTP Act or any other act is not possible in the case of MbPT and Mill land, then there are two options: One is to challenge any dubious law or a clause that is harmful to public interest in the court of law; Second is to bring the President’s Ordinance and freeze the land use for specific future purposes. If Maharashtra Government is so prompt to seek the Governor’s Ordinance against the bar dancers without thinking of their rehabilitation, what is holding it recommend the Central Government to bring the President’s Ordinance to take over the MbPT and Mill lands? What is needed is the political will of the people, not merely of the politicians who are there for five-year term.

 

As for the Eastern Waterfront, where MbPT land exists, it should be developed, in the first place for the water transport – for public and goods – along the coast of the city, Navi Mumbai and main land. This doesn’t mean to patronise sexy hovercrafts, which are good for Bollywood, but to encourage and facilitate the country crafts and the fishing community to replace as far as possible the expensive road transport.

 

A caution for the citizens: whenever the authorities, inspired by the West, declare “public participation” please do check what they mean. Is it, “We decide, you follow”, or is it, “You decide, we facilitate” and whom do they address – the citizens or the ‘corporations’?

 

Remigius de Souza

Date: 10-11-2002 (07-10-2005)