After two months of relentless controversies, Mumbai’s draft development plan for 2034 has finally been shown the door. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis took the decision to scrap the plan after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, given the large number of errors found in the draft and the thousands of objections and suggestions filed by citizens since it was released on February 16.

Fadnavis has now given the city’s municipal corporation four months to rework the plan by correcting errors and giving weight to the feedback offered by citizens.

The draft plan had been heavily criticised for focusing chiefly on vertical development at the cost of open spaces, heritage and other vital aspects of urban living.

While political leaders and citizens across the board are lauding the chief minister’s decision, some activists are sceptical about how much can be accomplished in four months.

“Reworking the development plan is a sensible decision but scrapping it completely is a bad idea, because the corporation has already spent four years and a lot of money on drafting it,” said Hussain Indorewala, an architect and urban planner at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture. “In four months, at the most they will be able to rectify the errors in the draft but they also need to work with the suggestions and objections filed by the people.”

While the municipal corporations plans for the DP over the next four months remain unclear, here is a recap of some of the many problems with the draft development plan in its current form.

Heritage at risk
In a glaring omission, the draft development plan has not marked on its maps hundreds of heritage structures in the city. This includes the structures notified in the sanctioned heritage list of 1995 as well as those on a proposed list that the Maharashtra state government has failed to notify since 2012.

The most eyebrow-raising omissions are in Mumbai’s southern-most municipal ward, where iconic buildings such as the Asiatic Society of Bombay, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj museum and St Thomas Cathedral have not been specifically labelled as "heritage". In the suburbs, the Bandra station building has been left out.

Heritage structures, depending on how high they are ranked, have separate rules for development and construction around them. Not marking structures like the museum and the Asiatic Society as heritage property opens avenues for new construction on and around them and compromises efforts to conserve them.

But structures are not the only type of heritage missing from the development plan – it also leaves out heritage precincts like some gaothans and koliwadas (traditional villages) from the heritage tag. The Marol gaothan in Andheri, for instance, has been shown as a slum cluster instead of a vulnerable precinct to be preserved, leaving it open to redevelopment under the Slum Redevelopment Authority.

Significantly, the draft development plan also allows Grade-III heritage structures and precincts to be redeveloped up to 10 stories instead of the limited 24 metres (or eight storeys) allowed in the previous DP of 1991. If sanctioned by the municipal commissioner, developers will also have the option of building higher than 10 storeys. This could drastically alter heritage precincts, which have so far been characterised by their low-rise cityscapes.

Open spaces compromised
The development plan’s uncaring approach towards the city’s limited open spaces and ecological resources has irked activists since the day the draft plan was released.

The first issue to hit the headlines was that the 1,009-acre forested Aarey Colony in Goregaon – which the previous DP had marked as a no-development zone – will be developed as a commercial hub. The plan proposes to build a housing project, educational institutions, a zoo and transport amenities in place of the green cover that citizens have been fighting to preserve in Aarey.

With citizens scrutinising the draft DP in greater detail, more instances of violations of open spaces have emerged. In Cuffe Parade, for instance, a seaside garden plot being maintained by local residents for 30 years has been marked as a commercial plot.

An additional 700 hectares of open spaces has been jeopardised by the draft plan’s proposal to delete all existing land reservations on plots across the city. Land reservations are made for open spaces or educational and medical facilities to ensure that those plots are not used for any other commercial purposes. The DP does not specify which plots will lose their reservations, but it proposes to delete reservations on plots that have already been encroached upon.

Since the majority of reserved open spaces in Mumbai have been facing various degrees of encroachment, they could suddenly be open to development and construction. The same would apply to encroached land reserved for education or healthcare amenities.

Coastline endangered
The maps in the draft development plan chalk out the route of the big-budget coastal road that the state government is keen to build around Mumbai. The 34-km coastal freeway, which is expected to cost Rs 8,000 crore, will be constructed along the western coast of Mumbai by reclaiming 160 acres of land from the sea.

The purported purpose of the coastal road is to ease traffic congestion and reduce pollution in the city, even though experts have consistently pointed out that the road will only benefit a small minority of car-owning middle- and upper-classes, while wrecking the livelihoods of several fishing communities living on the coast. It is also likely to be an ecological liability for the coast – reclamation for the Bandra-Worli Sea Link has already led to erosion of sand at the Dadar beach.

In suburban Goregaon, the DP marks a 500-acre coastal plot as a residential/commercial zone even though it is a no-development zone under the Coastal Regulation Zone rules. The plot touches a creek and is surrounded by vulnerable mangroves. The mangroves that used to cover the plot have already been destroyed by illegal land-filling over the years.

The development plan opens the plot up for high-rise construction by giving it a Floor Space Index of 3.5 (FSI refers to the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the plot it is built on). Two private companies are set to profit the most by this new zoning of the Goregaon coastal plot – the Sahara group, which owns 106 acres of it, and the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy group, which owns large portions of the rest.

Road widening
To the despair of residents in suburban Mumbai, the draft DP has proposed widening many roads and streets in several erroneous or problematic ways. In Marol, the plan mentions the widening of a non-existent road cutting through the heritage property of an Evangelist church. In Bandra, the plan proposes to construct a road over the iconic Mount Mary Church steps.

Since the DP used satellite image-mapping to prepare maps and plan roads, other errors have also crept in. In Andheri, for instance, a new road has been mapped cutting through a quiet, 65-year-old housing colony.

Residents of Bandra, Andheri and other suburbs have spent the past two weeks holding meetings to oppose road-widening proposals that jeopardise building compounds and residential plots, with residents afraid that the extra road space will be used for car parking and commercial activities.