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'Mills For Sale: The Way Ahead'
Arati Menon Carroll in Mumbai | February 05, 2007
What's the significance of this book now, when the Supreme Court has, irrevocably, withdrawn the stay granted by the Mumbai High Court on the sale of mill land?
Let's face it, there is no legal recourse left, but it's important to understand the implications of the ruling. According to the1991 Development Control Rules, all mill land developers had to surrender two-thirds of the total area for public open spaces, civic use and low cost housing.
The 2001 notification under sec 37 of the MRTP Act, which the Supreme Court upheld, surreptitiously amended that two-thirds of the vacant area excluding all the structures, which leaves you with very little because mill buildings occupy a huge footprint. Also, the court has clubbed what are known as private greens with public greens so now swimming pools and clubhouses can be passed off as open spaces.
Having said that, there's still 14.5 million sq feet of mill land still undeveloped. Maybe it's wishful thinking but Charles Correa is suggesting a forum to discuss this remaining land.
What have Mumbai's public really lost out on?
This mill land redevelopment issue has long been perceived as something that only involves mill owners, workers, real estate developers and the government, but it's the larger public that has lost out the most. We should have got 160 acres of open space; instead we will get 35 acres. 160 acres of land should've gone for low cost housing; that's come down to 25 acres. Mumbai has the lowest ratio of open spaces to population in the world; it's 0.003 acres per population of 1,000; even Delhi has more.
What is the human angle to this issue? What of the displaced mill workers?
Nowhere in the world have 2,50,000 workers in one industry in one city been displaced so suddenly. The bulk has been paid their severance and turned casual labour. About 25,000 are living on the streets. Some mills still have workers in there with nothing to do. You can still see broken windows and dispirited workers staring out of them. A few who lived in chawls have sold out and moved to the far suburbs; children have been pulled out of school. It's a scale of social relocation as has never been seen.
What sort of heritage perspective do we need to maintain with the mill structures?
The Derwent Valley Mills in Wales are now a UNESCO world heritage site. We are not saying maintain all structures, but some particularly significant ones could be maintained. You could use them for film studios or pollution free, labour-intensive industries and employ at least the children of the mill workers. INTACH, thankfully, has won its case for listing mill structures before they are demolished.
Wasn't the initial plan to develop the entire mill land bank holistically?
This was a fantastic opportunity for holistic urban planning. Right now, each mill is totally free to develop their land in any manner it likes. The MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) used to be armed with planning capabilities but its been completely sidelined. Planning bodies are packed with MLAs. Charles Correa's report had suggested clubbing lands, for example, to make a maidan. Don't forget how Central Park has made a seminal difference to New York.
The mill lands may be done for but we have one more opportunity with the redevelopment of 1,800 acres of Mumbai Port Trust land on the eastern
waterfront, three times the size of the mill land. It covers 18 kilometres, and there are more than 500 acres of marshalling yards and godowns that are largely obsolete. This area could be the "power seat" of the city, having direct access to the Fort on one side, and through the new trans-harbour bridge at Sewri, to Navi Mumbai.