Monday, December 17, 2007

Shanghai a dream Think Big Apple!!!

After all that talk of turning Mumbai into a Shanghai or Singapore, the Maharashtra government may now end up looking West — to New York.

Concerned over Indian resistance to change and antiquated laws that do not match those of world-class cities, the World Bank has advocated an FSI policy like New York — the FSI is the ratio of the total floor area of buildings on a certain location to the size of the land of that location, or the limit imposed on such a ratio.

Senior World Bank officials, who visited Mumbai last week for meetings with government officials, have expressed concern over both issues. “It is a controversial place... there are a dozen different opinions argued very strongly,” Constance A Bernard, World Bank’s Director, Sustainable Development Unit, South Asia Region, told The Indian Express. “It is inevitable in a democratic process... but we find that the pitch is very high here.”

The World Bank has expressed concern over the “noise” made by the media, environmentalists and people in general whenever new projects are announced. Bank officials feel that Mumbai can be transformed into a world-class city, but there are too many laws that need to be amended — some by the local government, others by the federal government to facilitate development on par with metropolitan cities in the world.

“Take for instance, the problem of housing the ever increasing population. There are too many people competing against one another for buying a house. This has to be changed and the housing stock has to be increased,” said Songsu Choi, World Bank’s Lead Urban Economist. “Here there are too many regulations. In New York, the minimum FSI is 8 while in Mumbai it is 1.33.”

He said since land is scarce, Mumbai should grow vertically like New York to make builders compete with one another for wooing buyers. The Bank, he said, was “reasonably satisfied” with the pace of work in Mumbai and Maharashtra, but a lot of things needed to be done.

On water supply and sanitation projects in urban and rural areas, Bernard said that the major challenging tasks in urban areas like Mumbai included slums and the water delivery system. “Access to drinking water in urban areas has reached 90 per cent, but the system is not financially sustainable and the water quality is a problem,” she said, pointing out that such urban operations survived largely on subsidies and capital grants. She said there was need was for a reliable source of water which was affordable and sustainable, financially and environmentally.

According to Bernard, there’s need to improve accountability in service delivery systems and the state or urban local bodies can do it either through public or private or combined efforts. “We have left it to them,” she said, adding that the Bank would consider launching an awareness campaign to educate people on new projects.

Maharashtra Chief Secretary Johny Joseph, when contacted, said: “It is true that there is too much noise made by the media, environmentalists and NGOs over new projects. People file PILs and there are agitations, but it is inevitable... ours is a vibrant democracy. We have to take into account environmental concerns. We also need to see things from a global perspective.”

He said the government was aware of the problems and reforms were in progress. “There is an economic boom all over the world and Mumbai should take advantage of the situation,” he said. “The government is open to their suggestions (on FSI). We need to provide world-class infrastructure. If we want investors to come, where will they stay? There are not enough hotel rooms in Mumbai. There are 1.25 lakh hotel rooms in Dubai and only about 5,000 in Mumbai. It is true that the FSI policy in the US is different from ours. In Manhattan, the FSI is 15. We need to study these things.”

He said that the Bank had sent 24 senior managers to interact with the state government which was committed to improve the situation by taking “appropriate decisions”

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