Sunday, December 22, 2013

Time Out Mumbai- Re:claim

This piece appeared in a slightly edited version in my 'After Words' column in Time Out Mumbai, December 2013

Re: claim

Dear Mumbai,
re: your claim that the only solution to your congested, imploding self is to reclaim more land from the sea, here are our considered opinions-

We see from our records that your past actions re: reclamations on your good-self are chequered with inconsistencies- whereas your laying the many causeways in the mid 19th century interconnecting the erstwhile islands that constituted your good-self had some intrinsic merit in making you whole, this resulted in a low-lying centre prone to flooding annually and mosquitoes, a space you further exacerbated by raising several textile mills, creating a situation you have not satisfactorily resolved even after a century and a half.

Your next request for plastic surgery admittedly met with some success in 1940 with your self-named appendage- the Queen's Necklace. But you botched this up laying a road along the water edge rather than perpendicular to it, isolating a thin sliver of land only useful for walking dogs and/or resisting expressions of young love. All your subsequent actions, we note with concern, catered to the whims and fancies of automobiles rather than your own citizens, a trait so deeply embedded that you seem to think is normal. It is not.

We can only shake our head at your half-hearted, ultimately abandoned attempts to create a business district out of the sea in the late 1960s, which you ironically named after the same person who opposed you in the first place. We call your attention to the toothless gum that is the Cuffe Parade fishing village. Your desire to iconicize the Mantralaya only resulted in scuppering the very objective of your new city across the harbour. This reluctance to shift your administrative heart to Belapur put back both settlement and progress of New Bombay by three decades, making it a dormitory suburb. We must therefore infer, Mumbai, that you are, in your own words, 'aarambh shoor'; you know how to start things but not finish them.

It is with some relief that we note your fancy late '90s ideas proposed by your starchitect to reclaim a width of one kilometre on your western edge for 'public amenities' stayed on the drafting board. God alone knows how you would have monetized all that land in the millennium. On bended knee, we offer thanks to our city deity daily that your other scheme of enclosing your natural eastern harbour (linking Colaba to Uran, like bringing together a thumb and forefinger) in order to create, a 'giant freshwater lake' remained just an idea. Having seen your track record with sewage,re: the Mithi, we only shudder at what you could have done to the water you sought to sweeten.

Now, in your latest application, you have sought to expand on the aborted Nariman Point reclamation by another hundred hectares. We observe that you have enclosed testimonials from foreign experts to back your claim. Needless to say, you seem unconcerned that in the last decade your business centres have all shifted to BKC and the mill lands. Enterprise and commerce have moved north. Has this not helped change the mono-directional circulation of commuters and laid the base for a polycentric city? Who do you think will benefit from raising land to create high-end residential properties on the southern tip? You already have, at the last count, around 1,40,000 unsold ‘crore-plus’ flats all over the city. We suggest you sell them first.

Also, your current policy allowing the densification of those parts of your good-self that are already some of the densest in the world displays an ambivalence about your own urban future. While you ignore debris-dumping on mangroves and salt-pans without permission, you keep a twenty kilometre stretch of eastern docklands undeveloped, hidden behind tall screens. This, after shifting the bulk of your maritime commerce to JNPT. We suggest, earnestly, you look up the word ‘oxymoron’.

Your new proposal also seeks to create another ‘freshwater lake’, this time at Mahim, which you intend to fill with water from the Mithi. You never learn, do you?

To conclude, your past history does not give us the confidence to endorse your proposal to resume reclaiming land. By allowing redevelopment on almost every plot of land (built or unbuilt), to provide ‘long denied’ benefits to the owners, your developers are reclaiming the entire city anyway, bit by bit. You should be satisfied. And satiated.

Nevertheless, given our long association, we specially commissioned our back office to develop a proposal to reclaim land from Bandra West to Sur-on-sea (Oman East). We are told this is feasible, as the crow flies. The only reason we resist giving it the go ahead is our concern about illegal migrants, and the possible dilution of your city’s culture.

The image at the top of this post is Neibhur's 1764 mapping of Bombay's islands.
This image was one of many made free for use online by the British Library.

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