Afternoon D & C Dedicated To Mumbai
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Thursday, September 14, 2017
By Prashant Hamine

A chat with Architect & Congress spokesperson Anant Gadgil

Although he is more known as the spokesperson of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC), this time around MLC and Architect of repute Anant Gadgil had one impassioned plea to make “let us discuss about issues plaguing Mumbai. Let us save Mumbai from dying”. A through-bred Punekar, for Gadgil, Mumbai is his second home. Soon after the August 29 heavy downpour that once again invoked the nightmarish memories of July 26, 2015, Gadgil approached The Afternoon Despatch & Courier with one condition, he would speak to us not as a party spokesperson, but as a Town Planner and an Architect on saving Mumbai from urban decay.

Heavy downpours once again brought Mumbai to a standstill on August 29. According to you what is the reason?
First of all the weather forecast was not accurate. The Weather Bureau did not give a pinpoint forecast. Let us not forget that Mumbai essentially is a city made out of seven islands. There is over-crowding in the city. The city’s drainage system was designed way back in 1932 by the British Improvement Trust (BIT). We have managed to change just seven percent of that drainage system.

The city needs at least eight to nine sewerage pumping stations out of which only six exist. On that fateful day one was not functioning. Of the 300 odd small water pumps that were installed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), many were not operational. Besides this there are only few marine outfalls like at Sewri, Worli and Shivaji Park, Dadar which is why the outflow of water into the sea gets severely hampered.

Next is the issue of Floor Space Index (FSI). The official administrative area of BMC is 450 Sq Kms only. Whereas the total official road length, if added up goes beyond 2,200 Sq Kms. There is no open earth left at the sides of the roads where rain water can seep through.  Take a look at the Hindamata junction where the Lalbaug-Dadar and Sion-Worli flyovers converge at this low-lying area of Parel. Here the area itself is by nature below the sea level and cannot be raised now. The water flows from the two flyovers and the area at Lalbaug, Parel being below sea level leads to flooding.

The British did a planned development of areas like Bandra, Sewri, Wadala, Dadar’s Parsi Colony which were well planned with well laid boulevards, canopy of trees. Take the example of Parsi colony, Dadar, most of the buildings have been ground plus two floors, each of these buildings had a minimum area of 15 feet wide as open space for garden area. This open space was useful in soaking up excess rainfall. But today in the process of redevelopment and more cars coming inside for parking that open space has vanished. In the last decade or so due to the massive construction drive and concretization, 70 percent of this open space has vanished, 15 lakh Sq Ft of such open space has been lost in Mumbai to concretization ever since the construction boom began.

Critics argue that in the quest for development those in power have caused damage to city’s ecology?
Yes to a certain extent. The population pressure on the city has been tremendous. People from all over the country come here in search of work. Former Congress late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had given Rs 100 crores in 1985 for redevelopment of slums. That was the only attempt at slum redevelopment. Today the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) is a den of corruption. Today we have no accurate topographical map of the city apart from the one that was done by the British in the 1930’s. We have lost track of our water bodies that act like sponges in holding excess of water.

Was the flooding caused due to excessive concretization and construction of glass towers?
Yes. The construction of glass towers and excessive concretization are the main cause for heat build up. Glass towers reflect heat and the concrete roads only add to the heat. It is mother nature after all. In order to cool down excessive heat, mother nature sends rains to cool things down and it rains heavily. Since there is no space left at the sides of the roads and sidewalks for the water to seep below the surface it leads to flooding. Another big mistake that we have done is allowed construction of highrise buildings along the shoreline and the slums have come up inside the main land. What that has done is that the glass façade gives rise to heat and blocks wind flow inwards.

Are we lacking in effective storm-water drainage, sewerage treatment system?
As I have already stated earlier, we have not even changed seven percent of the sewerage drainage system that was designed by the British before Independence. The storm water drains get clogged as plastic carry bags find their way into the drainage system. We cleared the BRIMSTOWAD project during our previous regime. For seven years there was no action. This government is tasting the fruits of what we did in our regime. I had suggested the need for more marine outfalls at regular distances along the coastline on either side that will lead to more speedier discharge of excess water back into the sea

According to you what needs to be done to save Mumbai from yet another deluge?
Mumbai has limitations to its geographical expansion, it cannot now grow any further. Stop giving this excess of FSI now. I have suggested, what we call in Town Planning terms is to develop Sub-Growth Centers, develop self-contained cities like Mumbai within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region between the quadrilateral of Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik to take the pressure off Mumbai. Way back in 1997 I had advocated the need for constructing an elevated rail corridor over the existing Western and Central Railways between south Mumbai to Bandra and Ghatkopar which will ensure that in times of flooding train traffic does not come to a standstill. To ease the parking space problem the government can consider underground multi-storied parking lots underneath Oval or Azad Maidan.

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