Micro Dynamics within Macro Planning Process: A Case of Sunderbaug

By Richa Bhardwaj, PhD Scholar, School of Habitat Studies, TISS

The Mumbai Development Plan 2014-2034 has generated a lot of controversy since the release of the Existing Land Use (ELU) in 2012, right from errors in marking and reservations to proposals and methods employed for planning of the city. The debate often mediated through a media frenzy took the form of exclusive meetings, consultations, discussions within and outside the government, public demonstrations, large scale objections and suggestions and finally the Draft Development Plan being put under review through the intervention of the State Government. Within this raging debate and outcry one case in Deonar brings out at what levels the planning operates and how deeply the social and political are entangled with the ‘technical land use planning’ in a heterogeneous city like Mumbai.

Sunderbaug literally translated as a ‘beautiful garden’, is a ‘Slum Cluster’ few meters off the busy Sion-Panvel Highway in the eastern suburb of Deonar, Mumbai.  A 13.4 meter road provides access to Sunderbaug as well as to some educational institutions, a private hospital, the BEST Bus Depot and some private houses. The settlement with a population of 700 and 133 households has well-constructed two storeyed houses and internal community spaces. In Mumbai while one of the raging debates for slums is the cut-off date of 2000 as proof of eligibility for redevelopment or rehabilitation, all the residents of Sunderbaug have a sense of security as they possess the requisite documentary proof. However, their main insecurity arises due the Proposed Development Plan which shows the 13.4 meter road to be extending over most of the houses in Sundarbaug and finally connecting to another road of the same size called Waman Tukaram Patil Marg. While to a planner viewing through satellite imagery the road extension might look like a natural progression based on the current road alignment, when one looks at the previous plans as well as well the ownership of the plots around, the picture becomes quite interesting. Based on the 1991 Development Plan (DP) of Mumbai, the currently Sanctioned Revised Development Plan (SRDP), the road alignment is totally different where the road passes over an adjacent Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation (ULCRA) plot rather than over Sunderbaug (Map 1)


Map1: Proposed 13.4 meter road based on the SRDP 1991

(Source: M-Ward Transformation Project, TISS and Sunderbaug Sahkari Gruhanirman Sanstha)

In the new DP making process, the ELU also marked Sunderbaug as a slum cluster however in the Proposed Land Use (PLU) of 2015, a road was shown. The residents of Sunderbaug engaged through various means with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) through letters of suggestions and objections, demonstration in Azad Maidan and collective submission of suggestions and objections as a part of the Hamara Shehar Mumbai (HSM) Abhiyaan. With the 2015 DP put under review by the State Government, all the suggestions and objections were rendered outside the mandate of the Review Committee including those of the residents of Sunderbaug and thus were not considered. The Revised Draft Development Plan (RDDP) 2016 again proposed a 13.4 meter wide road passing over the settlement. Additionally the RDDP showed an extended boundary of the Best Bus Depot over the Urban Land Ceiling & Regulation Act (ULCRA) plot, all the way till the houses of Sunderbaug which is not the actual case on the ground (Map 2). While the slum settlement has been totally erased in both Earlier Draft Development Plan (EDDP) 2015 as well as the RDDP 2016, what is interesting is that a building on one section of the ULCRA plot owned by leader of a political party, has not been touched at all even though based on the SRDP 1991 the original road alignment passes exactly through this plot. So the question arises, were the road alignments changed to protect an alleged illegal building owned by a powerful politician? The arguments against the proposed road made by the representatives of the community are very powerful and do not follow an emotional pitch rather they articulate the need and feasibility of having a 13.4 meter road in that particular site.

According to Deepak Dhopat the secretary of Sunderbaug Sahakari Gruhannirman Sanstha, “There is no need for a road here. If you look at the access, we haven’t blocked anyone’s access neither the Depot, colleges, industries nor residential buildings. If you take Sunderbaug as the centre then 200 meters from here on either side there are wide road connected through the Waman Tukaram Patil Marg right behind the community which provide easy movement of traffic. If the proposed road in RDDP is made then there will be further traffic problems on Waman Tukaram Patil Marg which already gets crowded because of the increased traffic going towards the eastern expressway. Secondly, till now the buses entering the Best Bus Depot do not face much problem when they line up for checking on the existing road but with the proposed road there will be an increase in other form of traffic which when combined with the buses would lead to major traffic snarls.”

Map 2: RDDP 2016: 13.4 meter road, Missing Slum Cluster, Wrongly extended boundaries


(Source: M-Ward Transformation Project, TISS and Sunderbaug Sahkari Gruhanirman Sanstha)

The residents of Sunderbaug along with HSM as well as M-Ward Transformation Project, TISS have raised these issues at various forums of the government however the MCGM has not organized any hearing for their demands. To create further pressure on the Mumbai Municipal Corporation they continue to strategise by writing to various politicians including Uddhav Thackeray, Chief of Shiv Sena the impact of which is yet to be ascertained though he has written to the head of the Standing Committee favouring the case of Sunderbaug. Additionally, they have also approached the Advanced Locality Management (ALMs) around Sunderbaugh to seek their support against the construction of the road over their settlements. As Arun Patil a member of the Cooperative Committee states, “We are not against development, when the Waman Tukaram Marg was constructed, we removed the 10 hutments which were coming in the way and adjusted them within Sunderbaug but the proposed road over the entire settlement is not acceptable.” From the M-Ward Transformation Project, Purva Dewoolkar and Dr Amita Bhide share that whenever the case of Sunderbaug is taken up with the MCGM, it is explained as a technical problem which can be corrected but somehow these corrections are never made in the actual plan.

The residents of Sunderbaug are highly organized with aspirations of development and change. For Patil, it is important that Sunderbaug is marked as a slum cluster as it would ensure that they can go into redevelopment through the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) while securing the location as well as their collective community fabric. Deepak Dhopat questions the planning process at various levels from wrong road alignment, actual feasibility of proposed road, absence of reflection of the ELU in the PLU and then at the level of financial practicality where if the road is constructed the MCGM would have to ensure rehabilitation for all families which would mean increased expenditure but if they are marked as a slum cluster their redevelopment would have no financial implications on the MCGM as it would be taken care of through SRA.  The case of Sunderbaug bring to the forefront, the micro dynamics at play in our cities where while on one hand at the macro level the debates highlight how Floor Space Index (FSI) & Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) regime has rendered a State formulated planning document merely a speculative tool to further the market interests and on the other hand at the micro level the local political and social dynamics continue to influence and challenge this planning.

(The case study is a part of a larger collaborative research project titled “Urban Planning and the Heterogeneous City: A study of the technical, social and political controversies around the 2014-2034 Mumbai Development Plan” between School of Habitat Studies, TISS, Mumbai, India and EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland.)


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