BKC: DOES “C” STAND FOR CONTROVERSIES

KRVIA Blog

BKC : Does the ‘C’ stand for Controversies ?

Heer Shah 

First Year B.Arch 

 

 

MMRDA established the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) as a secondary Central Business District (CBD) in Mumbai with the goal of slowing the growth of offices and commercial activity in South Mumbai and accumulating short-term real estate gains. The idea was to create an area solely dedicated to large commercial spaces and premium residential complexes, making it a unique and one of its kind ‘micro-market’ in the city. Though this idea seemed to fail in the 1980s, with land available at a bargain price of Rs 3000 per square metre, as the 1990s arrived, prices in BKC began to rise. The last land auction at BKC took place at the end of the 1990s when the price was 3.5 lakh per square metre. MMRDA upped BKC’s floor space index (FSI) from 2 to 4 for commercial plots and from 1.5 to 3 for residential plots to satisfy demand, making this megaproject a huge success and highly profitable for them, but it came at a cost and a lot of controversies took place to maintain the magnificence of BKC.

As we know, BKC has been created by carrying out landfilling of 630 acres of the Mithi River, wetlands and mangroves. An SC appointed panel has stated that the reclamation of land for the creation of BKC is responsible for the overflowing of the Mithi. The report also states that in the vicinity of Mithi around BKC, out of the original water spread area of 800 acres in 1930, 400 had already been reclaimed by 1973. The overflowing of the Mithi was a major reason for the catastrophic 2005 floods, and causes floods every year during the monsoon as it paralyses all three of Mumbai’s suburban railway lifelines and forces evacuations of hundreds of people living along its banks. Although the BMC and MMRDA have built retention walls to direct the flow of the river, widened and deepened major portions of the river to ensure water doesn’t overflow, the river continues to flood during the monsoon, bringing the city to a standstill. The panel found that the upper reach of the river from Vihar Lake to Andheri-Kurla road has a very steep gradient, whereas downstream from Andheri-Kurla to the Mahim Causeway is a flat gradient. Thus, any increase in the water flow causes the river to flood now as it doesn’t have enough space to accommodate that extra water flow owing to the huge piece of land reclaimed for Bandra Kurla Complex. The final report stated, “This reclamation has led to the waters overflowing, stagnating and rising in the river inside the retaining wall section, thereby affecting the outflow of flood waters into the river and upstream areas.” The panel also observed that it compounded the problem during high tide. “This has also resulted in the excessive situation, thereby grossly undermining the river’s water-carrying capacity,” it stated.

 

Before the establishment of Bandra Kurla Complex, South Bombay was an agglomeration of most of the corporate offices in the city, making it a strenuous task for employees to reach to their offices. Most of them lived in the suburbs or outside the city in areas like Thane, forcing them to travel for up to 2-2.5 hours using public transport during rush hours, increasing congestion and traffic in the city. Thus the idea of BKC as a commercial hub closer to the city centre emerged, with a local train station originally proposed for the area. However, the idea was discarded, the reason for it being that BKC is close enough to the Kurla, Sion and Bandra railway stations. One might think if this was done because all the major international and national companies were to have an office space here and a local train station just wouldn’t be the “smart” choice.

The Maharashtra government was eyeing a plot in BKC for the Metro-3 (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) car shed, but eventually rejected the option inJanuary 2020 and shifted the plot to  Aarey Colony. Mumbai’s Aarey Colony is often referred to as the ‘city’s lungs’, spread over 13000 hectares and home to over 27 Adivasi villages and inhabited by various animal species. Building a metro car shed over here would require the cutting of over 2700 trees and displace animals out of their homes. Yet, this plot was approved over the BKC plot as it was of very high real estate value with other projects planned around it and rebuilding tunnels towards this depot would delay the project. Hence, the Aarey site gets approval amidst strong protests from locals, activists, celebrities and the work began, only to be stopped by the government later.

With the presence of Avenues, streets and wide footpaths, travelling in and around BKC was easy, but reaching BKC wasn’t painless, especially with the lack of a direct railway connection, poor roads and less frequency of government buses. In recenttimes, the BMC has constructed various bridges and roads of excellent quality like the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road to Kurla, BKC Connector to the Eastern Express Highway and the Kalanagar flyover to the Western Express Highway where no heavy vehicles are allowed for increased connectivity to all the parts of the city. They have also designated parking.

With the presence of Avenues, streets and wide footpaths, travelling in and around BKC was easy, but reaching BKC wasn’t painless, especially with the lack of a direct railway connection, poor roads and less frequency of government buses. In recenttimes, the BMC has constructed various bridges and roads of excellent quality like the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road to Kurla, BKC Connector to the Eastern Express Highway and the Kalanagar flyover to the Western Express Highway where no heavy vehicles are allowed for increased connectivity to all the parts of the city. They have also designated parking.

( This is a post that forms a part of a series of writings by students made during the course of an  elective “ Writing About Infrastructure” conducted by Hussain Indorewala in February 2022)

Introduction of small, rental electric bikes and cycling tracks make commuting within BKC easier. However, not much measures have been taken to promote public transport in the region. A few years back, the BMC had assigned designated bus lanes for smoother and faster movement but poor execution  with no designated lane in certain patches and poor quality forced them to withdraw their idea. With less frequency of government buses in a commercial area like BKC, people were forced to wait for hours before getting a bus, leading to the emergence of private companies like ‘cityflo’ which provide buses for a group of people to and from their homes. The Metro-3 project under construction will add a mode of public transport but private vehicles and buses form the major part of modes of transport. BKC – the financial and commercial hub of the city as well as the apex of post-work life, does not hold back on its grandeur, but one glance at the back hand and you’ll see it stirs up a lot of controversies and consequences.

 

 

NOT IN MY FRONTYARD

KRVIA Blog

Not-in-my-Frontyard

Ambika Lambah

Third Year B.Arch 

The essay delves into a conundrum that could have far-reaching ramifications for Mumbai’s urban development and its inhabitants. This controversial matter goes by the name of the ‘Versova Bandra Sea Link’ (VBSL) project, more specifically the Carter Road connector, which is facing considerable Not-in-My-Backyard or NIMBY resistance.

From regular promenade goers and Sandras from Bandra to activists and people of the Koli community, the number of stakeholders and affected lives is turning this mega infrastructure project into a game of chess that seems to make most spectators look in dismay. Dissecting these miscalculated moves brings forth conversations, opinions, and arguments the author has come across and presented in this article.

The purpose of collating this data is to bring to the fore a glimpse of the vast spectrum of local opposition along with each party’s concerns, highlighting the need for intensive stakeholder engagement and a participatory approach to public infrastructure projects without any specific hierarchy of citizen participation in mind.

The VBSL was designed as a road 900 meters off the coast of Mumbai, that would connect portions of Versova with the Bandra Worli Sea Link (BWSL) and two connections along the way (i.e. Carter Road and Juhu) to relieve traffic congestion in Mumbai’s western suburbs.

Currently, in the nascent stages of construction, the government had appointed MSRDC (Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited) as the nodal agency. An EPC (Engineering, procurement, and construction) contract with Reliance Infrastructure Ltd. & Astaldi in the year 2018 also mentions a scheduled construction period of five years from the appointed date.

The barricaded site along with security measures such as guards were observed. Work on the site has not picked up speed yet.

A glimpse of the Carter Road connector, that is currently in the nascent stages of construction.

The Carter Road promenade providing a space for leisurely walks and talks

One of the aforementioned connectors was proposed at Otter’s Club on Carter Road. The repercussions of such a project would be that the seafront would become significantly less pedestrian-friendly, as well as mark the loss of a cherished open space. One such resident, a retired real estate agent, believes that his sea-facing property is about to suffer a major blow.

He and his friend who were on their daily jog on the promenade, mentioned how they’re happy that there isn’t any reclamation of land taking place in front of their houses because chances of a more visually unappealing obstruction would be significant. A vital factor that led to the purchase of their respective apartments was the proximity to the promenade and the uninterrupted sea view. In terms of planning suggestions, they were of the belief that moving the link away from the promenade was ideal for Carter Road and its denizens. As to where it should go, no idea as of now, but a move to the Khar area at the other end of the promenade seemed to make more sense to the them and their neighbours

Koli fisherfolk winding down after a hectic day on the fish-drying land

The same land which several Carter Road residents believe the sea link connector should be shifted to.

It is vital to bear in mind these local oppositions one comes across while dealing with a subject of this scale, even if it is to discern whether they should be disregarded at an earlier stage or bear importance to the context. This is especially true of design proposals that have the potential to alter the course and meaning behind infrastructural projects. Referring to one such example, we have Abraham John Architects and their design proposals encouraging discourse on the matter to take place on social media platforms. Essentially, the firm’s belief is that 3 connectors are far too many. The Carter Road connector is far too close to the existing BWSL site, hence it could be moved to Khar Danda, whereas the Juhu connector should simply be removed and the Versova link be adjusted. This was welcomed by many, as the waterfronts were seen to be ‘preserved’ and the design approach would reduce the mammoth costs bearing their weight on taxpayer money. Moreover, a reduction in the number of connectors seems to agree with most stakeholders, regardless of the background. Perhaps because they are all of the impression that the connector negated from this process, would be the one closest to their vicinity.

However, this solution seemed to draw me back to a fisherman who was politely answering my bevy of questions just last week. The inherent flaw of positioning the Carter Road link right on the fish drying land given to the Koli community, which traces its roots back more than four centuries and are heavily reliant on their access to fishing areas is irrefutable. The project may hurt their livelihood and history as much if not even further, and create a hazardous choke point closer to the narrow bylanes in which they work.

 

This particular fisherman, a gentleman in his late 50s or early 60s, wary at first but eager to put forth his argument succinctly, outlined the main concerns of the community. It has been translated from Marathi and Hindi. He mentions that the connector would impact the fishing route. Though the project seems to have come at an unfortunate time, when the family has suffered an immense loss due to COVID, and their weekly earnings don’t always suffice for the entire household, he is not completely against the project itself, having given up any hope that it can be stalled. He simply wishes for the design and implementation process to involve his and his colleagues’ views. Why do the designs of the pillars and their positions seem to purposefully obstruct their fishing routes? The presence of this sea link directly impacts the pattern of wave movements and the lack of consideration for the fishermen makes their daily journey more treacherous and their small boats more inclined to wear and tear.

When asked about protests, he said that he was not actively involved in or aware of much of those, attributing that to his age. His son is helping him out, even though he wishes to work elsewhere. Becoming an only child after 22 years comes with added responsibilities.

Suddenly, the matter at hand boils down to issues far more than those of aesthetics or even the right of Mumbai’s citizens to a waterfront. It brings in questions of policy making. Will deferring the problem by suggesting a change in the location suffice? And what if this change generates further power dynamics?

The urge of those living in residential apartments of Carter Road to move the project is a fair reaction, but as stakeholders with the ability to voice their resentment and prolong a fight, the choice of a new location should not come about by carelessly deferring the problem to another’s front yard.

These individual stakeholders voicing their concerns and offering potential solutions as well as the bodies in charge of the project are responsible for bringing all such stakeholders to a level playing field such that everyone’s concerns are equally regarded. Instead, the authorities let stakeholders play hot potato with the burdens of growing infrastructure until one group of stakeholders eventually wears out and gets the short end of the bargain.

Exploring a scenario wherein a proper investigation into each stakeholder’s concerns takes place, what is an effective way of making this divisive argument a question of how the project can move forward without affecting any one set of stakeholders far more than the other? Even in a situation where the project carries on at either site without breaking up the Carter Road Waterfront or affecting the livelihood of fishermen in the region, both connectors are proposed in locations that are already acting as choke points for traffic. This defeats the purpose of rapid car transit across the city, if the time saved moving across the suburbs is still spent stuck in one place, waiting for cars to move along.

These traffic choke points, the substantial ecological damage to the mangroves and coastline, as well as the issues concerning most transport infrastructure in Bombay largely pandering to car owners, despite millions of people relying on the city’s crumbling railway infrastructure, are symptoms of a rather myopic development strategy, which foregoes any input from stakeholders from the very inception of the project. This lack of communication has resulted in such a great divide. The abundant discourse surrounding the subject sprouts two more unforeseen issues for every issue that is resolved.

 

 

( This is a post that forms a part of a series of writings by students made during the course of an  elective “ Writing About Infrastructure” conducted by Hussain Indorewala in February 2022)