Green city

Why Mumbai's 20-year development plan seems far-fetched

The plan, set to be released on Monday, envisions a 'green city'. But its policies ensure the opposite effect.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature "smart cities" are being planned across the country, Mumbai’s civic authorities have decided to market the metropolis as a "Green city".

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is finally set to unveil its 20-year development plan on February 16, which reportedly envisions Mumbai as a city that prioritises its green cover and environment.

The plan is meant to serve as a blueprint for urban planning and development policies and according to the Maharashtra Region and Town Planning Act, such plans must be drafted and implemented once every two decades. Mumbai’s last development plan, drafted in 1981, was officially adopted only in 1994, so the new plan was due in 2014.

The delayed plan had been in the news for more than two years, largely because of several discrepancies between its land-use maps and the actual use of land in Mumbai. Citizens’ bodies and urban planners have also been pointing out the striking deficiency of open spaces in the plan’s land-use maps.

Now, even though the plan asserts the need for a "green" city, urban planners and activists are sceptical of the label.

Shift of focus

“In a development plan, open spaces typically refer to parks, playgrounds, gardens and recreational grounds, spaces that citizens can actively use,” said Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute, an urban planning think tank based in Mumbai.

The UDRI had analysed the DP’s preparatory studies drafted last year which, says Joshi, included mangrove lands, wetlands and the protected forest Sanjay Gandhi National Park as green open spaces.

“By shifting the focus of the plan to ‘green’ city, they can include such environmental assets which should not be touched anyway," said Joshi. "But the open spaces citizens can use remain limited. In any case, even the amount of wetland areas depicted in the preparatory studies was less than the amount recorded in the official wetlands atlas of Maharashtra.”

Creating a green city, experts say, ideally involves taking a range of steps to ensure the sustainable health of the local ecological system. This would include adopting environment-friendly systems for sewage and waste disposal, transport, energy use and increasing the ratio of open spaces for residents.

“It is easy to use the right words to market the idea of a ‘green’ city, but in Mumbai, authorities have neither the capacity nor the sincerity to translate the idea into actions,” said Rishi Aggarwal, a Mumbai-based environment activist.

In fact, a number of recent plans and decisions by various civic authorities reveals that the possibility of Mumbai being a green city is far-fetched, no matter what the development plan says.

Cutting 2,300 trees
This month, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority submitted a proposal to cut down at least 2,298 trees in northern Mumbai’s forested Aarey colony area to accommodate a car shed depot for a section of the proposed Metro rail. On February 9, the city’s Tree Authority deferred this decision only because of mounting public protests against the deforestation.

The Tree Authority has now asked the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited to provide details of where it intends to transplant more than the 2,000 trees that would be lost. Aarey, as the buffer zone for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is perhaps the last green lung of the city and Mumbai has no other space where such a large number of trees could be transplanted.

Hazardous solid waste management
Mumbai generates at least 10,000 metric tonnes of garbage every day, which is currently being disposed of by transporting it to one of the four large dumping grounds at Deonar, Mulund, Kanjurmarg and Gorai. The system has been the target of consistent criticism for years, as the grounds grow more saturated and residents of surrounding areas, particularly slum dwellers, suffer from the health consequences of toxic fumes.

“For the development plan, activists had recommended setting aside one acre of land in each of the city’s 151 planning sectors for decentralised waste management through composting and other green methods,” said Aggarwal. The authorities are yet to take up the suggestion.

Ambitious reclamation
After dropping the idea of building additional sea links, the Maharashtra government has decided to ease Mumbai’s strained transport network by building a 36-km long coastal road along the Western coast from Cuffe Parade to Dahisar. The project will involve reclamation of the sea along a 10-km stretch.

In November 2014, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis sought special approvals from the union environment ministry to amend the 2011 Coastal Regulation Zone norms that disallow reclamation for such purposes. Such reclamation could have an adverse impact on tidal circulation, destroy vital mangroves and also lead to coastal erosion, but government officials have justified it by claiming that the environmental impact of sea links could be worse.

“Instead of making a coastal road to facilitate the movement of thousands of cars, a greener option would be to improve and subsidise public bus transport, which would cost just Rs 150 crore,” said Aggarwal.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.