In June, Union minister for road transport, highways and shipping Nitin Gadkari announced that he had set up a committee to make recommendations on how the 1,800 acres of land controlled by the Mumbai Port Trust could be monetised to turn around the organisation's fortunes.

The importance of Mumbai Port Trust Land Development Committee report cannot be emphasised enough. At stake: the very future of Mumbai, a land-starved city with 12.4 million residents and growing. Carried out in the right civic spirit, this could be Mumbai’s biggest chance in a century to renew itself. Undermined by the usual cabal of real-estate sharks and a comprised establishment (as the plan to redevelop the city’s 600-acre mill district was a decade ago), Mumbai will be deprived of its last opportunity at a large-scale transformation.

The report and its recommendatory plans carry such high stakes that the Prime Minister’s Office asked for a copy last week. The Land Development Committee included port trust officials, former bureaucrats, urban planners and architects.

Here, in detail for the first time, is an overview of the plan with subject-wise micro projects, and the mechanism by which Mumbai could gain nearly 1,000 acres with an eastern waterfront to rival the one on its western side, the iconic Marine Drive. The length of the eastern waterfront could give the city seven Marine Drives.

60: 40 recommendation

The essence of the plan: a 60:40 division of the port trust land with 60% to be used for public open spaces, augmenting the city’s transport connectivity and for public amenities, with the remaining portion to be put to commercial and residential use. It also recommends the creation of the Mumbai Port Trust Land Development Authority, an autonomous body to plan and execute the re-development of this vast area. The plan suggests a 40-year funding plan that relies on the market as well as government funds.

The vision for redevelopment is driven by principles of “intelligent urbanism”, the report states. It mentions the need to integrate the re-development project into Mumbai’s Development Plan 2014-’34 and includes as its core mantras the words “open”, “connected” and “green”. The report lays out a list of “priority actions” that the autonomous body must take.

The subject-wise details from the plan:

Open spaces: Thirty per cent of the redeveloped land will be reserved for public open spaces which will form a web of green and blue waterfront connectors for continuous pedestrian and cycle access. In addition, a contiguous waterfront promenade running along the entire site, if possible

Transport: The plan aims to develop the waterfront as a new transit corridor, to eliminate the existing disconnect between the port trust land and the rest of the city, creating a new multi-modal transport networks comprising pedestrian pathways, cycle lanes, water transport routes with hubs at Wadala among other locations, and express bus lanes. Also included are new parking areas with basement and underground parking spaces that will connect to public transport corridors and inter-modal transport networks.

Commercial: It recommends the creation of an Entrepreneurial Promotion Zone to mobilise business skills and jobs, an Export Promotion Centre, a world-class convention and exhibition centre, to develop an international and regional business and financial districts housing financial services, research and training institutes, Knowledge Enterprise Zones, Innovation and Entrepreneurships hubs, incubation centres supported by ancillary hotels, retail stores, lifestyle and entertainment uses

Residential: On the cards is the re-settlement and rehabilitation of existing complicated tenancies on the port trust land, rehabilitation of slums and port trust staff quarters, creation of integrated high-density mixed-use communities around rail stations.

Tourism: Also planned is branding the eastern waterfront as a global/regional tourist destination offering leisure tourism facilities such as cruise terminal, an oceanarium, theme parks, water sports centres, adventure sports centre, floating hotels, restaurants, marinas and promenades

Culture: The panel suggests the delineation, protection and restoration of heritage sites on the land to create art and culture hubs, city museums, venues for artistic and cultural performances, amphitheatres and open theatres, all of these supplemented by hospitality and retail outlets and hotels

The note that leads the report, written by committee head Rani Jadhav, acknowledges that there are competing demands on this land. “In the initial stages itself, it became apparent [to the committee] that challenges lay both on the supply and demand side,"  writes Jadhav, a former Mumbai Port Trust chairperson. "On the supply side, the primary challenge is the complexities of land use patterns and the nature of tenanted estates, port activities and multiple litigations…On the demand side, the creation of world-class social and economic infrastructure [including] public open space, a wide variety of leisure, waterfront tourism and recreational activities coupled with social and public amenities”.

Creating new authority

The last part of the report details the creation of the Mumbai Port Trust Land Development Authority by amending the central Major Port Trusts Act, 1963, specifically its Sections 33 and 34. The Authority comprising all stake-holders will “frame guidelines for land development and use, frame Development Control Regulations for the port trust land, take up the task of developing local housing policy and stock, job creation…to draft business-friendly rules and policies…”

This could put it on the war path with existing agencies led by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation among others. But, at this point, this will be the least of the Mumbaikars’ concerns about the eastern waterfront. The over-riding anxiety will be whether 60% of the land does get used for the city or the powers-that-be will find ways to repeat the sad tale of lost opportunity in the textile mill land.

Nearly 600 acres of land scattered across 52 textile mills in central Mumbai, leased to them during the British reign, were up for grabs in the 1990s when the mills ceased to function. The most-discussed proposal then was the “one-third formula”, by which a third would be reserved for public open spaces, a third would be used for the much-needed affordable housing and a third used for commercial use. The formula was cleverly subverted. A decade after re-development gathered momentum, the area is now littered with standard glass-prefab sky-scrapers that are either high-end office complexes or ultra-posh apartments linked by flyovers.

The eastern waterfront is Mumbai’s last chance. This isn't an opportunity just to redevelop the vast port trust land. It's chance to re-imagine the city itself.

This is the first in a two-part series on Mumbai's docklands. You can read the second article here.