Discriminatory Living Standards: FSI, Tenement Densities and Building Controls for Low Income Housing in the RDDP 2016


By Hussain Indorewala | Shweta Wagh

With an explicit desire to champion the interests of the real estate industry (“ease of doing business”) the recently released Revised Draft Development Plan (RDDP) proposes unprecedented dilutions of development control regulations in the city, especially for rehabilitation projects. In this essay, we will discuss the prescribed norms for Floor Space Index (FSI), tenement densities and environmental controls for low income housing as proposed in the RDDP, and point out how these will create sub-standard living conditions for rehabilitated households. We will show how proposals of the Plan are discriminatory in terms of the access to infrastructure they will provide, as well as the quality of the physical environment they will create.

FSI is a regulatory tool that determines the intensity of development on a plot of land – the product of FSI and land area gives the permissible built up floor area on the plot.  Tenement density norms determine the number of people that can live in a given area. Building control norms determine the amount of light, air open space that inhabitants have access to, as well as the form and character of the built environment. When combined and used creatively, these can ensure minimal living standards, as well as quality and diversity of urban environments; but when compromised, these can result in deleterious and deficient living conditions, as well as discordant or sterile urban environments.

Floor Space Index (FSI): The two Draft Development Plans – the earlier one (EDDP) and the latest one (RDDP) — have provided two different approaches to question of FSI. This number that indicates development rights through a simple built up area to land ratio has over the years emerged as the most contested and controversial instrument affecting development in the city, alongside its fiscal and marketable progeny, incentive FSI and Transferable Development Right (TDR), respectively.

The EDDP’s approach to FSI was to use it as a ‘tool to guide development’ and cut back on its use as a fiscal mechanism as much as possible. The deliberate scarcity of development rights created in the 1991 DP by keeping FSI in some cases lower than what was consumed, it argued, contributed to the high real estate prices in the city. It proposed therefore the expansion of the FSI envelope generally, with variable caps based on the infrastructure availability of different areas (as FSI zones). This ‘liberalized’ FSI regime, by removing distortionary constraints, would create affordability of housing and commercial space, and benefit lower income groups.

In contrast, the RDDP reinstates in form and substance the incrementally loopholed DCRs of the 1991 DP, that has evolved over 25 years through periodic exemptions and modifications. The FSI regime that exists in the city is variable, but based on conditions and locations – slums, Cessed properties, MHADA layouts, amenities, etc. But the difference here is that FSI is conceived as a fiscal tool, allowing higher intensity of development in certain areas by offering it as an incentive for re-development. Consequently, FSI values are dislodged from land and depend on multiple factors. Futhermore, such incentives will work only if what is offered is well over and above the rest of the city. It becomes difficult therefore to anticipate the intensity of development in certain areas, and impossible to plan for physical and social infrastructure and service provision. Since many areas such as slums, rent controlled areas, public housing, etc are ‘targeted’ for redevelopment, incentive FSI inevitably goes to already high density areas, resulting in both an unexpected strain on infrastructure, as well as deterioration of living conditions due to increased residential densities after redevelopment.

But there are important commonalities between both these approaches: both fail to evaluate the social consequences of FSI increases, mainly due to the highly iniquitous consumption of floor space in the city. Both are based on offering higher FSI in high density areas – the first through high ‘FSI zones’ along transit corridors and inner city areas, and the second through ‘targeted’ incentive FSI for certain areas and conditions. Both aim to promote urban renewal – the first through an abstract but powerful economic argument, the second through a now artful process of responding to political and electoral pressures by offering concessions to real estate interests. And both are based on the economics of land, with the value of land being the driver of urban development – for the creation of housing, employment, physical and social infrastructure. While the differences are important, the commonalities are quite crucial.

The use of market based techniques such as TDR has had highly uneven consequences in the city, with further fragmentation of spaces that are already socio-economically segregated. The M Ward is a striking example of this. An area with relatively low land values where displaced slum dwellers from the Island City were relocated over the decades, this mechanism has resulted in many Project Affected Persons (PAP) townships emerging in the ward, and much of TDR generated as compensation to builders for constructing such townships have reaped them terrific returns, when used for creating luxury housing in the Western Suburbs. Land owners in the Ward who speculated on lands that were meant for public housing were rewarded handsomely through this highly opaque process of ‘moving’ development rights.

As a means of regulating the intensity of development, FSI has an important role to play in the regulation of urban environments, only if it is prescribed based on a careful assessment and consideration of factors such as infrastructure availability, income of residents, social infrastructure, proximity to transit nodes, etc. FSI must also not replace or undermine other important forms of regulation that are focused on the quality of the built environment (light, air, safety) through volumetric and form controls. Such controls determine the character and quality of the built environment, something that FSI is incapable of regulating by itself. Finally, a city where most inhabitants live in self-built settlements, requires not simply standardized building codes, but transformation guidelines for upgradation that can regulate and guide the efforts of self-builders to achieve adequate living environments.

Tenement Density: When the first draft of Mumbai’s Development Plan was published in 1964, clearance and public housing were proposed as the approach towards slums. ‘Slums,’ it must be remembered, at that time included buildings that were not compliant with building control rules, buildings that were inadequately serviced or dilapidated or ‘insanitary’, and hutment colonies. Over the years, the use of the term ‘slum’ has transformed from one that signifies building or settlement conditions to one that indicates legal status.

M Ward_Hussain and Shweta

Public housing was one of the most important land use reservations in the 1964 Development Plan, and 2.03 square meters per capita land area was reserved for the purpose. To cite a concrete example, in 1964 about 229 hectares or 9.5% of the K-E Ward’s land area was zoned for public housing. When the 1964 plan was revised in 1991, the land area for housing reservations in K-E ward was reduced to 130 hectares, out of which 102.5 hectares or 4.2% of the ward area was reserved for Public Housing and Housing for Dis-housed. Typically, an agency such as the Housing Board in the 1960s or MHADA after it was formed in the 1970s was expected to develop these lands after acquisition. Since the earlier approach of clearance was based on the unacceptability of insanitary or non-conforming conditions, public housing was built as per standard building regulations for densities as well as volumetric controls. With the diminution public housing, the ‘enabling markets’ strategy, and the arrival of incentive and marketized development rights regime, rehabilitation through cross-subsidy has become the dominant mode of housing provision for low-income residents. With higher intensity of development being offered as an incentive to developers, the dilution of environmental control norms are justified the means to make projects attractive and ‘viable’ for property developers.

Like the EDDP, the RDDP has done away with public housing reservations altogether, and replaced these with reservations for Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R), to be developed with an FSI of 4.0. FSI by itself is insufficient to control population density in an area, unless one considers the average amount of floor area consumed by each resident, or the average tenement area per household. The K-E Ward that we considered above, has around 90,000 households (60% of the population) that live in informal settlements, occupying 270 hectares or only 11.2% of the ward area. The RDDP provisions 33.7 hectares as R&R reservations in the K-E Ward, or 1.4% of the ward’s land area. At 25 square meters per unit, R&R reservations will produce about 54,000 tenements, equal to about 58% of the ward’s slum households, squeezed into approximately 1/5th the land area they currently occupy! The tenement density of these R&R reservations at 4.0 FSI will be 1,600 tenements per hectare, that is three times the maximum residential density of 500 units per hectare prescribed by the National Building Code norms for low income housing.

Therefore to make the R&R projects at 4.0 FSI possible, the RDDP continues the 1991 Development Plan’s shocking inversion of the logic of density controls by linking density with FSI values – for Rehabilitation and Resettlement projects and affordable housing, minimum tenement density will be 325 units per hectare for every 1.0 FSI. Which means that with 4.0 FSI, every R&R plot will have to be developed according to the RDDP with not less than 1,300 dwelling units per hectare!

Such densities produce unsustainable, unserviceable and unlivable environments. As more people are added to a given area with a fixed amount of social and physical infrastructure, the area available for open spaces, roads, health, educational and social infrastructure is shared by more and more people, and each person’s share declines. At a bare minimum 6 square meters for amenities per person, 54,000 households would require at least 162 hectares of land only for amenities, that is nowhere to be found. The RDDP is inevitably generalizing what has been emerging sporadically as Mumbai’s uneven, two-tiered and discriminatory development regime.


Shweta and Hussain Resized_RDDP

Environmental and Building Controls: Environmental and building controls include (1) plans that indicate what standards and regulations apply in what areas, (2) standards that determine the type and quality of the public realm such as pavements, parking, street vending, and public use areas; and (3) building envelope standards that determine access to light and air, and open space around buildings. Even in this aspect, the RDDP simply reinstates the gradually watered down and two-tiered regulations of the 1991 DP.

The basic principle that guided building envelope standards up until the preparation of the first Development Plan was that buildings must be set back from one another based on the 63.5 degree rule. This meant that if a line at 63.5 degrees is drawn from the top of one building, the next building can only begin beyond the point whee the line intersects the ground plane. In terms of ratios, this means that the distance between two building must not be less than half of the height of the taller building. A 30 meter tall building must have a clear gap of at least 15 meters between itself and the neighboring one. In the 1964 Development Plan draft, the rear and side open spaces between buildings was proposed to be guided by the height of the buildings, which was itself restricted by the width of the street it abutted. For two 9 meters high (3 storey) buildings, the space between them could not be less than 7.2 meters. As the building grew taller, the space between buildings increased but the ratio between its height and the width of the open space reduced. For example, a 27 meter tall building (9 storeys) required a minimum air space of 17 meters (approx 1.6:1), but for a 90 meter tall building (30 storeys), the minimum space would be 30 meters (3:1).

The National Building Code of India (NBCI) prescribes even more stringent regulations. The height of a building is restricted by the width of the road it adjoins. A 9 meter road restricts the height of buildings to 22.5 meters, and a building can go up to 72 meters only if it sits beside a road 36 meters wide. The NBCI prescribes a ratio of 1.5:1 for front, side and rear air spaces, though the side and rear open space ratios can reduce as building grows beyond 30 meters. A 90 meter tall building would require a minimum side and rear open space of 32 meters according to the NBCI [see diagram].

The RDDP 2016 has two sets of building envelope standards, one that applies generally, and one that applies only to rehabilitation and resettlement projects under Regulation 33 of the Development Control Regulations. All the city’s hutment dwellers, those residing in Cessed buildings, and those living in older public housing are proposed to be rehabilitated through redevelopment schemes. The minimum standards for rehabilitation buildings have been considerably reduced over time, and the RDDP adopts them in its regulations. In other words, for more than 60% of the low-income population of the city, the RDDP proposes sub-standard living accommodations that will deprive inhabitants of light, air, open space and privacy.

According to the RDDP, the minimum front open space for rehabilitation buildings need not be more than 3 meters irrespective of the height of the building. Furthermore, while the general regulations restrict building heights based on road widths up to 12 meters, rehabilitation buildings can go to any height if the width of the road is 9 meters or more. So for instance, with a road of 9 meters and minimum front open spaces of 3 meters on each side (total 15 meters), it is possible to have a building of unlimited height. Similarly, for side and rear open spaces, it is possible to construct two 30 meter buildings with not more than 6 meters between them (a ratio of 5:1).

In Summary: The RDDP is a plan that is likely to sharpen income segregation in the city, and perpetuate socio-spatial inequalities. Its proposals are highly discriminatory against the city’s low income residents, first in terms of land distribution, as they seek to reduce the already small footprint that the poor occupy relative to their numbers; second, in terms of  tenement densities that will deprive residents of access to the most basic of amenities and create high concentrations of urban poverty, and third, through compromised environmental and building control standards that will produce unacceptable living conditions in what can only be described as vertical slums.

Hussain Indorewala and Shweta Wagh are Asst. Professors at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture (KRVIA). They are members of the Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA), a community planning and urban research group.




3 thoughts on “Discriminatory Living Standards: FSI, Tenement Densities and Building Controls for Low Income Housing in the RDDP 2016

  1. it is perhaps the best explanation of the policy drift that we are experiencing in land use against the deprived in Mumbai . very well argued and written. must be reference. clearer and better thinking than what got into the original and revised plans .
    we must have clear maps for each locality which should form basis for further land use permission


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