Theme Park Mumbai

The draft of Mumbai's twenty year Development Plan is scheduled for release soon. There is another plan that is worth looking at, if only to get a sense of what the city's power elite have in mind for its future. This plan may be found on the website of the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU) by the name “Concept Plan for MMR.”i Though not a statutory document, it claims to become the “guiding framework” for all the subsequent Development Plans in the MMR region, and also the basis for local sectoral schemes on transportation, infrastructure, housing, industrial development, and others.

Mumbai's Concept Plan

In May 2011, a Singapore based planning firm, Surbana Corporation, with experience in planning for cities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, submitted a “Concept Plan” for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) to the MTSU. The object of the plan is to provide a “long-term development framework which directs future investments and urban growth in the region.”ii With a population of 37 million, by 2032 the MMR will become a “world class metropolis,” with a “vibrant economy” and “globally competitive quality of life.” By 2052, with a population of 44 million, the Region will be “elevated” to become a “Global City,” recognised around the world as an “international business hub, a leading technological innovator, a melting pot of local and cosmopolitan cultures, and a centre of excellence for urban environmental management.”

Based on a functionally determined “branding approach” the region will be restructured into multiple thematic “cities,” so that every city "can be differentiated and remembered by its own uniqueness.” The island city will be branded as an “International Business Centre.” The Western suburbs will be branded as “Media & Design City” due to the “strong presence of Bollywood” in that area. Thane will be called the “Central City of Culture,” Navi Mumbai the “Hi-Tech City,” Uran will be our “Port & Logistics Hub” and so on. In the Thane creek, “multiple attractive 'islands'” will be reclaimed – each the size of a small town – with their own unique thematic functions: an expo island, a theme-park, a business centre, a diplomatic district. Taking off from the new airport at Panvel, one will get a dazzling glimpse of our celebration bay, the iconic expo lighthouse, the Mumbai Flyer, the landmark building in the CBD and the five new islands that will re-establish the city's long lost identity as the “City of Islands.”

Physical structure and urban form is, however, only one part of any plan, and is usually determined by the plan's response to a range of social, demographic, economic, cultural, ecological conditions, based on existing regulatory and legal frameworks. The planning process involves a survey of all these existing conditions, an assessment of the available human, natural, financial and technological resources, an evaluation of present and future needs and contingencies that become planning objectives, and the drafting of various proposals for the fulfilment of defined objectives. Obviously, as even this oversimplified formulation indicates, this is an extraordinarily complex process, especially in a society with extreme inequalities of wealth and power. Professionals and planners, furthermore, though ostensibly trained as “objective” experts, are individuals with definite class, cultural and ideological commitments, and these are reinforced by incentive structures of their professions and their proximity with powerful groups. To make an assessment of the merits and demerits of any plan, a close examination of its process, assumptions, objectives, proposals and methodology need to be undertaken, and the following sets of questions might serve as a framework for such an examination. The rest of the essay will touch upon some of these questions.


  1. Who has made the plan? What are the methods, institutions, and processes that have been set up in its making? What is the legitimacy of these? Have all the stakeholders been identified and consulted? How much have they participated in the process? What decisions are political and where is technical expertise needed?

  2. What are the central and peripheral objectives of the plan? How have the objectives been determined, and what values do they represent? Are these acceptable to all stakeholders? In whose interests are these and who has been left out? How have the multiple objectives of various stakeholders been reconciled?

  3. What are the major projects and proposals? How are they to be implemented? How much will it cost to implement the plan? Are the means proportional to the ends? Who will bear the greatest cost burden in the short and long term? Are there alternatives, and have they been considered?

Who has made the plan?

The case for making Mumbai into an International Financial Centre was first made in 1993 by the global consulting firm McKinsey,iii and it soon become the basic objective of the Regional Plan (1996-2011) of the city's professional planning authority (MMRDA). The approach to this end, according to the MMRDA's Regional Plan, would be to

facilitate increased investment by [the] private sector in infrastructure and other developments; enable appropriate structural changes in the Regions' economy; and permit adoption of land use policies that respond to market potential” [emphases added].iv

A seminar organised by the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and British Council in 1994 called Mumbai: The Emerging Global Financial Centre, led to the birth of Bombay First (now Mumbai First), a union of the major industrial and business houses in the city, aping in name and function a similar group in London.v Over the next few years, Mumbai First authored various publications and reports, and organised seminars and conferences with policy makers, planning bodies, professionals and NGOs to push for Mumbai's restructuring into a Financial and Services Centre. It commissioned the Credit Rating Information Services of India Ltd (CRISIL), a financial consulting firm, to chart out a “road map” for the city's metamorphosis. CRISIL recommended increasing the “pace of reforms” and a “comprehensive overhaul of the existing social and physical infrastructure” of the city if it was to become a “more attractive destination for foreign investment.”vi

However, it was the 2003 public relations extravaganza orchestrated by McKinsey and Bombay First called “Vision Mumbai” that presented the overhaul agenda to a broader audience. Interestingly, the phrase “international financial centre” did not appear even once in the famous report, replaced instead by the operative phrase “world-class city,” which was instantly lapped up by an exuberant mass elite, finding a much needed aperture for its latent nationalism. The language of the report exhibited delightful euphemisms for the real aims of the city's business community: “change in mind-set” for urban and economic policy reforms; “viable business models” for private investment in infrastructure and development; “high-impact governance” for removing the limited public oversight and control over policy and planning; “quick wins” for implementation of projects without public consultation and debate; “islands of excellence” for privatising public lands. In an uncharacteristically swift response, the state government formed a task force to drive Mumbai's transformation; in 2004 the Citizens Action Group (CAG) was formed, comprising of a small group of “eminent citizens” of the city (mostly industry bosses, ex-bureaucrats and some representatives of select NGOs); 2004 also saw the formation of the MTSU, an initiative of the World Bank and Cities Alliance, the Government of Maharashtra and the All India Institute of Local Self Government (AIILSG). The MTSU's “Task Force” combines heads of various government agencies with heads of some of the biggest business groups of the city and the country, linked directly with the Prime Minister's Office. Its “high powered 'Empowered Committee'” consists of government officials headed by a bureaucrat, reporting directly to the Chief Minister, and eight members from the CAG. There is also the “Chief Minister's War Room,” a “core group” of Bombay First members and senior officials to monitor and report on projects, and “help clear bottlenecks.”vii The MMRDA's role has been reduced from a planning and coordination body to an implementation one.viii A complex of state and private power now controls the planning and development process, and with a shift from a bureaucratic to a “market based” model, and a cover of “civil society” participation, it remains highly centralised while becoming even more unaccountable.

In 2006, based on World Bank and Asian Development Bank guidelines and support, the Central Government launched its flagship program, the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), bringing with it a set of major urban reforms. To be eligible for funds under the JNNURM, City Development Plans (CDPs) need to be submitted, and in most cities these have been prepared by private consultants, with the interests of the “investor community” and big business dominating the plans, and minimal public participation. One of the stated purposes of the Concept Plan for Mumbai has been fulfilling the JNNURM's mandate. In 2010 Surbana was awarded the project to prepare a Regional Plan through an international tender, with the MTSU and AIILSG as clients, and the MMRDA as the financier.ix

What are the central and peripheral objectives of the plan?

One central aim of the Concept Plan is to create – to use the Prime Minister's stock phrase – a “hospitable investment environment,”x meaning restructuring economic and urban policy to provide incentives for private investment and big business and reshaping the city in the interests of global and local investors, developers, wealthy home owners and middle class commuters. As Amitabh Kundu points out, this involves employing “ingenious planning and fiscal methods to attract companies,” such as increasing the Floor Space Index (FSI) and pushing out “'low value' activities” such as slums and informal activities from “preferred sites.”xi In order to create this “environment,” every need of the city's inhabitants – of livelihoods, shelter, urban services – must be subordinated to the hegemony of economic “viability”; every fragment of social and cultural life that can be made profitable must be engulfed by the enterprise system. This can very easily be verified: policy reforms or projects undertaken in the last decade – repeal of the ULCA, opening up of mill lands, fiscal policies, major infrastructure projects – can all be traced back to recommendations made by business groups or to the dictates of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) (mainly the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank). Contrary to the myth of the “free market” – the left's favourite straw man and the right's favourite panacea – the creation of a “sound investment climate” involves massive state presence and intervention in the interests of capital, and an almost total abandonment of state protections in the interests of labour and the environment. The corrosive conditions of the “free market” are reserved for the poor, while the rich are blessed with benevolence and protection of the state.

Consistent with national policy, the city under the New Economic Policy regime, like other major cities, is conceived as an “engine of economic growth.” The machine metaphor, with its long and infamous journey in city planning history is both incisive and insightful. In this conception of the city as a growth maximising contraption, the object of economic and physical planning – evident in fiscal and urban policy – is to mass manufacture “consumers,” with the buying power to afford a range of urban, consumer and financial products and services, and the supply of this large pool of disneyfied “citizens” efficiently to investors who are in the hunt for newer markets and fatter profits. This was McKinsey's suggestion in Vision Mumbai: “lower tax rates to make Mumbai a consumption centre.” It is also the basic schema behind the city's infrastructural rewiring. Essentially a massive social engineering project, it based on a homogenization of values and preferences, to create, in the words of Michel Sorkin, “a new world order bent on a single citizenship of consumption.”xii Furthermore, by cutting tax revenue, the state can be starved of its resources; while infrastructure is created through “public private partnerships” (PPPs) and user charges are levied even on basic urban services. Since the state is mandated to solve social problems by the electorate, while it is in fact committed to corporate welfare and profits, it seeks to do one with the other: subsidizing unaccountable entities to undertake urban development projects in the name of solving social problems. The provision of public goods (roads, urban services, schools, parks, education, clean air, etc.) is ingeniously (and cynically) transformed into “business models,” made “viable” through devices such as “gap funds” – newspeak for government subsidies – and user charges to make private investment in infrastructure profitable. Naturally, in such a system of income based citizenship even “public” amenities become modes of socio-spatial exclusion and repression.

Take jobs and employment. According to the Concept Plan, the major source of employment and economic growth in the MMR will be the tertiary or service sector (information technology, financial services, retail, media and entertainment, tourism, healthcare, logistics, education and biotechnology). The working population in the Region will double by 2052 (from 10.1 million to 21.6 million), and about 71% of these workers will find jobs in the service sector, it says. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate for MMR is assumed to be 7.4% and the GDP per capita is “expected to increase 3.5 times by 2032 and by around 14 times by 2052.”xiii It must be remembered that Greater Mumbai's employment in the service sector was about 54% in 1980 as compared to 44% in manufacturing,xiv and has risen to an estimated 81% today.xv The decline of manufacturing jobs has been due to the elimination of Mumbai's textile industry, which at one point employed 27% of the city's working population. The pursuit to transform Mumbai into a financial hub and Structural Adjustment Policies based on World Bank directives facilitated mill closure: the Bank called for “greater freedom [for companies] to adapt to market forces by retrenchment, merger, or closure and sale of assets” and the city's plans and Development Control Rules (DCRs) reflected these recommendations, marking “a decisive withdrawal of the government from control in the public sphere.”xvi Those who lost their jobs found themselves in the unorganised service sector, disempowered and squeezed in the interests of market-driven growth. As the Planning Commission itself admits, in the past two decades in Mumbai, “formal sector employment has…been virtually stagnant” and that the “growth of formal sector jobs in the services sector has not been adequate to fill the void created by the decline in manufacturing jobs.” It adds that as a result “of bringing so-called labour flexibility and the international competition through increased emphasis on reducing labour costs, labour… [has seen] the erosion of many benefits… accompanied by increase in casualisation, contract labour, subcontracting and lengthening of working hours, etc.”xvii Moreover, the high GDP growth has been largely due to the highly dualistic service sector that employs, on the one hand, a large part of the working population in low-income jobs – such as petty retail trade, street vending, casual work, and so on – and on the other hand a low employment-generating high-skill high-income segment – including software services, banking, telecommunication, and so on – creating “islands of high growth…amidst a vast sea of impoverishment and misery.”xviii So for instance, the banking, financial services and insurance sector contributed 16% to MMR's GDP in 2005, while employing only 4% of the service sector workforce in the Region.xix It is unlikely, based on existing trends, to expect the service sector in which the city's planners invest so much hope, to provide secure jobs with livable incomes. On the contrary, if pursued, it might “institutionalise disparity”xx and continue the socio-spatial polarisation of the city.

More importantly, what is GDP? As an annual measure of the overall flow of goods and services (within a geographical unit), it is a partial, ideological and a limited indicator of wellbeing in any society: unpaid work and environmental damage are not accounted for (anything for which there is no economic transaction is not counted). Furthermore, the calculation is based on price of goods and services and not their desirability or the work that has gone into producing them. It also does not indicate the levels of inequality, discrimination, health, mortality and malnourishment in the society.xxi Being a measure of economic output and not social outcomes, GDP can increase even when there is a worsening of living standards. As Joseph Stiglitz cautions, what we choose to measure affects what we wish do in terms of social policy and planning,xxii and the Concept Plan makes a fetish out of GDP growth, defining its goals and measuring the city's progress in these terms. Improvement in public health, education, social security, employment, dignified working and living conditions, clean air and water, and other things that form the basis for a healthy and vigorous life for all urban dwellers are considered only insofar as they can further this end. Ultimately, the obsession with GDP growth and planning for it correspond not to some ideal, objective and universally accepted measure of social welfare, but to the class and ideological interests of groups and individuals that will profit from it; it is, very simply, partial planning for special interests.

What are the major projects and proposals of the Plan?

One of the stated objectives of Mumbai's industrial relocation policy was the de-congestion of the island city. It was also one of the main objectives of the New Bombay plan. In fact, checking population growth and de-congesting the city has been the major preoccupation of Mumbai's planners since the Modak and Mayer Plan of 1948. One of the ways planners have sought to do this has been to keep the amount of permissible built-up area per land area or FSI low. Developing towns, alternative commercial centres and establishing an east west axis for future growth (by developing New Bombay on the mainland) were other approaches. The Concept Plan reverses this trend, encouraging both population growth (in the Region) and increasing FSI in the Central Business District at Nariman Point from 3 to 20, in addition to reclaiming 800 hectares of land in the harbour bay to the east of the existing CBD for its expansion. The average FSI of the island city will be raised from the current 1.33 to 5. To cope with the pressure on transport infrastructure this increase in FSI will create, the Plan proposes multiple east west harbour links, in addition to augmenting north south links. For this, it builds upon the 2005 World Bank initiated Comprehensive Transportation Study (CTS) for 2031 that includes, among other things, plans for ten suburban rail corridors, 24 metro corridors, 24 highway corridors, six inter-city rail terminals, four state-bus terminals, 13 inter-city bus terminals, three multi-modal transit terminals, and five truck terminals.xxiii These plans aim at altering the physical growth of the city-region from an existing linear and forked structure to a semi-circular one, with the “revitalised” CBD forming a symbolic and approximately geographical centre. 60-80 storey towers that will emerge in the Business District will endow Mumbai with its own “world class” skyline, much to the envy of its less potent rivals. Road and rail links will radiate outwards from the southern part of the island city, enmeshing the region all the way from the north-western periphery of Vasai-Virar to the south-western tip of Alibaug. In earlier proposals for the restructuring of the city such as the CRISIL report and Vision Mumbai, there was an emphasis on multiple CBDs of relatively equal size linked with high-speed data and transport links, which has been modified in the Concept Plan's “most ambitious” option to a more centralised structure.xxiv These new links will open up new lands for commercial and residential development in the southern end of the Region, in the area roughly circumscribed by Panvel, Uran, Alibaug and Pen – also the site for a third airport. New “structured townships” with populations of 200 to 300 thousand will be built in these areas to provide “quality living environment as well as job and facility availability” realizing the “long-established decentralization strategy for MMR.” For inner city areas, the Plan recommends urban renewal by a facilitation of cluster redevelopments – which will lead to the erasure of its distinct and intricate spatial organisation, and the social and cultural lives of the communities it sustains.

Take the example of the fishing community. There are at least 33 active fishing villages in the MMR with a population of more than 160 thousand people.xxv Greater Mumbai is home to 23 of these urban villages, 15 of them on the coast, and 8 along estuaries (the city also has more than a hundred traditional agricultural urban villages or gaothans). The fishing communities still retain their traditional means of livelihood and cultural practices. What does the Plan have in store for them? To conform to the norms of this sanitary theme-scape, the villages along the coast, says the Plan (there is no mention of the inland villages), must be “contained” and “revitalized,” to be integrated with “various recreational uses” along the waterfront. These Waterfront Recreation Zones will offer a range of exciting activities for the world-class citizens of the global city:

“Recreation activities such as picnicking and BBQs, group socializing, holiday chalets, occasional events, education and interpretation, playing, swimming and water play, informal games, walking, jogging, cycling and fitness, etc., are appropriate…water sports centre, revitalized fishing villages with integrated seafood centres and fishermen’s museum, [b]each with theatre by the bay…are some of the key features proposed within the Waterfront Recreation Zone. ”xxvi

Encountering drying fish and haphazardly parked boats might not be the most pleasant experience on a Saturday evening. However, some respectable fishing may be appreciated in the city, but as part of “low intensity passive public recreation” in “nature parks,” along with other reputable activities like jogging, cycling, bird watching, socializing and nature appreciation.xxvii

Even for slums, the Concept plan supports some on-site re-housing of slum dwellers, as “certain percentage of low income population could still live in the city to support certain economic activities” (emphasis mine). Though it wishes to achieve a “slum free” city by 2052, and rightly recommends public rental housing, and an increase in public housing (though only up to 23% by 2052), it is unspecific about how these goals are to be achieved, and what kind of financial and regulatory models will get the private sector to deliver affordable, liveable and accessible homes for millions of people. What makes the Concept Plan most shocking is its contempt for the existing fabric and structure of the city; to use the words of Neil Smith, it has made gentrification “generalized as an urban strategy,” by shifting from “an urban scale defined according to the conditions of social reproduction to one in which the investment of productive capital holds definitive precedence.”xxviii

How, and for whom might the city work?

This fanciful megavision is not so much a plan as a prospectus, designed to seek the attention of prospective developers, investors and lenders. It perceives and presents the city not as a complex cultural process, but as a good place to invest in. It is conceived not so much for people who live in it, but for those who can make money off it. It this conception, cities are reduced to their territorial functions and territories into objects; like microwaves and toasters, these can be mass manufactured, packaged, branded, publicised and sold. Furthermore, the city is to be run as a business enterprise, with business plans, vision statements, products and marketing strategies – its social institutions, spatial organisation and physical growth all subject to the dictates of its bottom line. “Visions” such as these might be easily dismissed as artistic fantasies were they not taken so seriously by its decision makers and its powerful groups. Mumbai's transformation agenda seeks to place the city's future firmly into the hands of government super-agencies and unaccountable entities, far away from the unpredictable course of local political control. There are many “visions” for the city. Some better, some worse. All are important. The only way of knowing them is to ask for them, to debate them. Values can also be determined by non-market means.



ii Surbana (2011): “Concept Plan for Mumbai Metropolitan Region, India”, Mumbai Transformation Support Unit and All India Institute for Local Self Government, India.

iii Banerjee-Guha, Swapna (2002): “Ideology of Urban Restructuring in Mumbai: Serving the International Capitalist Agenda.” Economic and Political Weekly 37 (2).

iv MMRDA (1995): “Draft Regional Plan for Mumbai Metropolitan Region 1996-2011”, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority


vi CRISIL (2000): “Mumbai as an International Financial Center – A Roadmap”. Bombay First and Credit Rating Information Services of India Ltd.


viii Chattaraj, Shahana (2012): “Shanghai Dreams: Urban Restructuring in Globalizing Mumbai”, PhD Dissertation, Princeton University.


x “PM Assures Global Firms of Hospitable Investment Climate.” 2011. Business Standard, February 7.

xi Amitabh Kundu (2007): “The Future of Indian Cities”

xii Sorkin, Michael, ed. (1992): Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. 1st ed. Hill and Wang. p.xiii.

xiii Deloitte and SreeKumar Siddique (2010): “Dimensions of Growth of MMR”, Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, All India Institute of Local Self Government.

xiv EFI – Solar Foundation (2006): “Employment Generation in Post Globalization Era in Greater Mumbai”, Planning Commission, Govt. of India; p.24.

xv Parasuraman, S (2007): “Uncovering the Myth of Urban Development.” LSECities.

xvi Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana (1996): “Murder of the Mills.”

xvii EFI – Solar Foundation (2006): “Employment Generation in Post Globalization Era in Greater Mumbai”, Planning Commission, Govt. of India; p.25.

xviii Aggarwal, Archana (2012): “India’s Services Sector.” Economic and Political Weekly, 67 (26-27).

xix Deloitte and SreeKumar Siddique (2010): “Dimensions of Growth of MMR”, Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, All India Institute of Local Self Government.

xx Amitabh Kundu, ibid.

xxi Toussaint, Eric, and Damien Millet (2010): Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers. Monthly Review Press New York.

xxii Stiglitz, Joseph E (2009): “GDP Fetishism.” Project Syndicate. October 7.

xxiii Tembhekar, Chittaranjan (2013): “MMRDA’s Grand Transport Plans Called ‘unrealistic’”, The Times Of India. Accessed March 22.

xxiv If for some reason, reclamation does not pass, the plan suggests reversion to the distributed scheme, though the transportation strategy will remain roughly the same.

xxv Department of Fisheries (2007): “Census of Marine Fishermen, Boats & Nets 2003”, Government of Maharashtra.

xxvi Surbana, ibid.

xxvii Surbana, ibid.

xxviii Smith, Neil (2002): “New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy.” Antipode 34 (3): 427–450.

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