Learning from Navi Mumbai – Workshop Report

by Ayona Datta

The third workshop in our series was on Navi Mumbai’s urban future. This workshop was held from 27-28 May 2016 and was locally organised by Dr Ratoola Kundu, from the School of Habitat Studies in Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. Through the two days of workshop, we brought together a range of scholars, urban activists, practitioners, citizens, elected representatives, bureaucrats and others to debate and discuss the urbanisation trajectories (past, present and future) of Navi Mumbai. In particular we drew from narratives, reports, experiences, projects and proposals – incorporating both top-down and bottom-up, formal and informal, documented and undocumented realms of urban imaginations for a ‘city built from scratch’ at a significant moment of India’s liberalisation in the 1990s

The two days of workshops were organised under several themes – histories of urbanisation, the land question, governance, housing and infrastructure and grassroots voices. On the first day, after the opening of the workshop and introduction to the key themes of the project from Ayona Datta, Anu Sabhlok and Ratoola Kundu, the first session explored the histories of Navi Mumbai’s urban trajectory.

DAY #1

Trajectories of urbanization

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The session began with a keynote from Prof. Annapurna Shaw, author of Making of Navi Mumbai. Prof. Shaw was one of the first scholars to conduct research on Navi Mumbai at the moment of its conception and she used the keynote to reflect upon the intended and unintended consequences of Navi Mumbai after almost four decades. She noted that Navi Mumbai was a product of the nationalisation era when the state planned, funded and executed city-building projects. It was imagined by well-known architects Charles Correa, Shirish Patel and Pravina Mehta to reduce congestion in Greater Mumbai and provide balanced regional growth, dispersal of industry from large cities and social and economic equity. Its focus on land as the key driver of startlingly high levels of urbanization was the beginning of the consolidation of professions around garden city principles. There was a striking influence of international organisation such as UNESCO, UNCHS and at that moment it was the largest state-led project executed in India. Prof. Shaw however noted that even at that time there were instances of villagers resisting the land surveys conducted prior to land acquisition, and that the agitations moved from resistance in the 1970s  to compensation in the 1980s. on reflection she noted that while there were successes of Navi Mumbai around some of its low cost service schemes, it has been unable to check the growth of slums or provide any innovative solutions to squatter settlements so far.

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Following this Prof. Amita Bhide from School of Habitat Studies in TISS explored the idea of utopia central to the roject aims and objectives. Referring to noted historian Gyan Prakash, she argued that utopia raised the question of how one envisages the history of social change. In the context of Navi Mumbai the idea of utopia was contained in its material-historical conditionalities. Its present seemed to predominate the imagination of its future. Prof. Bhide argued that the role of private sector could be seen as the new utopias of the current moment. Mr Venugopal from City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra (CIDCO) – Navi Mumbai’s town planning agency, followed from this to present some of the current proposals for redevelopment of Navi Mumbai. He noted that the large scale land acquisition that were a feature of the birth of the city was not possible anymore. In particular, he presented the plans for Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area (NAINA) – the site of the controversial new international airport that will service Mumbai. He also discussed the transformation of villagers and towns in its influence zone.

The question of land

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Session 2 on the land question, began with a presentation on the new proposed Khalapur smart city which is in the influence zone of NAINA (above). It included a presentation from a set of farmers who were brought together by lawyers and real estate professionals to create a collective through which they would pool land and develop this into a smart city. They noted that they had become discontent by the 45 years if land acquisition carried out by CIDCO in which they had received no discernible benefit. They used the ‘inclusive growth’ model of Magarpatta City in Pune, where farmers became entrepreneurs and shareholders of the private company that would redevelop their land. Khalapur smart city would be developed in the same image to pool the land from 11 villages into 9,000 acres for a new city located strategically in the region. This was immediately followed by a presentation by Dr Aparna Phadke from Mumbai University who raised important questions around livelihoods. She argued that urban transformations need to account for whole socio-cultural milieu of populations rather than just skills transfer, which is not possible within a generation. Based on her own doctoral research on peri-urban regions, Dr Phadke argued that land is the central node around which formal and informal labour is being built. In her view, the lesson learnt from Navi Mumbai therefore was ‘infrastructure first, planning later’.

The day ended with a lively and animated discussion between the workshop attendees on issues around land, livelihoods and urban transformations.

DAY #2

Future urban trajectories

On DAY #2, the first session included presentations from stakeholders envisioning the future of the city – academics, elected representatives, smart city consultants, and urban managers. The first presentation was from Dr. Himanshu Burte from School of Habitat Studies in TISS. He noted the rise of smart cities as coinciding with the aspirational agenda for the production of real estate. This was because infrastructure continues to be an important area of investment internationally. He concluded that the smart city agenda is akin to a festival buzz and that the knowledge system is constructed around enabling action, irrespective of the facts. The next presentation was Mr Kedar Ghorpade, private consultant on smart cities. He argued that the future of Navi Mumbai as a smart city gives us all an unprecedented opportunity to see the city as one entity. The Indian smart cities programme under which Navi Mumbai is to be transformed will for the first time present a ‘vision’ for the city. This was followed by a presentation from Mr Suresh Babu, coordinator of Navi Mumbai Smart City in CIDCO. He outlined in details the planned development of Navi Mumbai that will be undertaken privately by CIDCO in parallel to the National Smart cities programme that is being funded by the state. The session ended with a passionate presentation from Ms Netra Shirke, elected representative and local corporator in Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC). Ms Shirke argued against the smart city focussing in particular on the imminent loss of city autonomy and decision-making powers that has been provided in India’s 74th Constitutional Amendment in 1994. Ms Shirke noted that the smart city transformation required urban municipalities to pool in their revenues into a private Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which will then determine future urban development projects in the city. This she argued is directly against the spirit of decentralisation and local self-governance which would take away powers from locally elected representatives to implement projects that were appropriate for their constituencies.

Governance of new urban entities

The second session began with a presentation by Mathew Idiculla from IIHS, Bangalore. He noted that there were various shades of grey in the smart city programme in India. It ranged from state sponsored programmes of transformation of 100 existing cities, as well as large-scale privately built cities from scratch such as Dholera. This was followed by a presentation from Ms Sulakshana Mahajan, private consultant to Mumbai transport planning. She noted the different challenges of planning and process in transforming areas and neighbourhoods into smart cities. This was followed by presentation from Ms Priyadarshini Karve, who discussed the initiatives of their NGO in waste management initiatives in Pune. She argued that waste management is a bigger problem than water management but Pune has selected the least challenging area for this initiative so that it will be fairly easy to deliver success on this project. She concluded by raising the question, ‘The idea of a smart city makes sense as a business to invest, but does it make sense for a government to invest in?’ This final speaker in this session was Ms Neela Limaye, from the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee who highlighted the challenges that continue to remain for most poor citizens of Navi Mumbai. These are in three key areas – 1) there has been no increase in public hospital beds although there are now several private hospital beds, 2) none of the municipality cleaners are permanent, and there have been no increase in benefits to them either; 3) the older villages (Gaothans) are in poor condition since they have been largely neglected in the urban development plans.

Housing and urban infrastructure

The third session in day#2 of the workshop concentrated on issues of affordable housing. Central to this session were presentations Mr Ratna Mane from Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) a NGO working with the y oung urban poor. He outlined some of the difficulties faced by slum dwellers living in Navi Mumbai because of the informality and impermanence of their housing condition. He also outlined that slum dwellers do not feature in any of the future urban development plans for the city. This was followed by a presentation from Mr Lakshman Dethe, a daily wage earner in Navi Mumbai who survives without any formal employment or housing guarantees. He argued that Navi Mumbai’s smart city plans of the future consulted the urban poor but does not provide any provisions for them in the future. This session ended with a prolonged presentation by Mr Lele the Chief Town Planner from CIDCO on Navi Mumbai’s housing provisions. The final discussions in this sessin were animated around the disjuncture between plans and reality and the future of the informal and undocumented workers in Navi Mumbai’s smart city visions.

Voices from the ground

This final session included grassroots voices from Mr Mhatre, a community representative who noted that the programme of smart cities should have started from villages. This was followed by a presentation from Mr Sujit Patwardhan from NGO Parisar who presented the case for a sustainable transport system in Pune. The final presentation was from Mr Vidyadhar Phatak who discussed the utopian visions of Navi Mumbai. He argued that Navi Mumbai was nothing but a strategy to increase the supply of land envisioned by its master architect Charles Correa. The discussion with the workshop attendees at the end of the day focussed on several key themes covered in the two days of the workshop. It ended with an evocative definition of smart cities by Mr Dethe, an undocumented worker – ‘smart is when you plan your children’s future and make do with the little money you have. I do that everyday and therefore I am smart’.

IMAGEs COURTESY OF AYONA DATTA
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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