Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the RWTH Aachen University

Indian Megacities – Mumbai and the Growth of “Neo Towns”

High-rise apartment buildings of a neo town near Mumbai

For my research about Megacities in India I must at least have visited Mumbai. Formerly known as Bombay, it is ultimately the biggest city of India right before Delhi. At the same time it is one of the most populous Asian urban agglomerations and among the 10 biggest of the world. I prepared myself with the thesis of Peter Gotsch, a German urban planner and experience scientist. This publication covers the theme „Neo Towns“, hence it was especially suitable regarding the examination of the New Middle Class.The Author chose this term for the revival of the New Towns, which are large-surface planned settlements on before uninhabited areas in contrast to a grown city. Under the enormous population and urbanization stress this mode of settlement is highly topical in the New Economies, whereas it was an important topic in the global North in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today many of the so emerged residential ghettos are criticized for example because of the separation of work and living. Meanwhile they seem to be a quick-fix for the New Economies also because these projects are privileged for privatisation. After all public private partnership is a big issue against the background of weak municipalities and corrupt governments.

Victoria station

For a start, the visit of Mumbai in itself is impressive. Arriving at the Victoria Terminus, well known from the bombings 2008, I don’t leave by the main, but by a side exit for security reasons. Therefore it takes some time to find the impressive main front. This is not easy to photograph because it rises up just in front of a highly frequented junction but worth because it is a very nice example of the British architecture and Indian history.

Like the city itself the terminus changed its name and is today called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Nevertheless it is further on known as VT by locals, what you should know for taxi rides.

The construction boom, which is typical for New Economies, is present everywhere in Mumbai. Its Twin Town, Navi Mumbai is the largest area of a planned city in the world. It is situated vis-à-vis on the continental side, separated from the old city by the estuary Thane Greek. It is already an adventure to go there, because new connections are under planning or construction. Therefore it takes some time to arrive into the different districts of Navi Mumbais. I have programmed to visit Khopar Kairane and Koparkhairane because there are some of the most expensive and in-style residential areas. Also they are situated next to each other, which is essential, regarding the dimensions of the whole area.

Gateway of India with Taj Mahal Palace & Tower

On the way already the atmosphere in the suburban train is completely other than in the city centre. The women – I always go into the women section, because it is more safety – are more modern dressed and look like commuters with their big bags and mobiles. Ready to help they ask for my travels target and give me clear instructions in well pronounced English. These travellers are the wealthier part of the population. This is clear at the latest when bulks of saleswoman and a begging transvestite flock into the cabin during the passage.

Khoparkairane is a well-planned settlement with square blocks, a friendly shopping street and neat non-detached apartment houses. Not surprising, the courtyard of these blocks, once surely planned as free places and recreation area, are today covered with informal buildings. But at the same time one can observe legal building activities everywhere. The road is under construction and new, well-constructed single family and apartment buildings arise.

High-rise appartments in an Indian neo town

I marvel about the real estate companies, which put themselves in the limelight by creating castle-like apartment blocks and high-rise office buildings as a memento of their financial success. Everywhere real estate company signboards show up. I wonder about the market mechanism here because usually an enlightened consumer would guess that the companies waste money instead of constructing substantially good.

Further in Vashi I ask for the way to the most expensive apartments of the area. Once found, they don’t really look like I have expected. But as I have read in Peter Gotsch’s thesis, Navai Mumbai is a “very Indian Neo Town”. Thus wastewater pipes line the dark spotted facades and between the blocks a small modern neighbourhood temple serves the residents for their religious needs. However a sports and playground is central meeting point and recreation area. By this means it meets the needs of the Indian middle class population just as it would meet these of Western middle class.

It is a well-known fact that these new planned cities of the New Economies are neither functioning in themselves nor sustainable with their environment concerning their disposals. Concerning this issue I’m lucky to stumble over the construction site of a wastewater treatment plant. First I found a closed water pipe flowing into a small river. Behind this I see an area, which could be planned as a local recreation area. Now polluted and overgrown it is actually not suitable for this purpose. Right behind the stylish high-rise apartment buildings and only separate by the angle of a site fence I stumble into a herd of buffalo and their herdsmen families. They show me the way by gestures. In contrast to the consumers is an oral communication with herdsmen inconceivable.

A bit further a stream wildly flows out from a hole under the site fence. Carefully maneuvering around it, I finally arrive at the entry to this site. Here a new wastewater treatment plant is under construction. Some common persons try to deny me access, but somebody who looks at least like an engineer and who is able to speak English turns the corner and allows me directly to visit the site on my own.

The wastewater treatment plant arises within the framework of the JnNURM, as some signs indicate. Very interesting is the contrast between the modern signs about occupational safety and the poor provisional barracks around. Written in English the signboard shows the American cartoon star Homer Simpsons. Who of the workers can read it and who of them would identify with this figure?

Path traces indicates obviously, that not even a toilet is made available for the workers. These hurry multiple times passing me to arrive in the bush or startle behind an excavation. What a paradox on a wastewater treatment plant construction place.

Female workers with special helmets

Very nice are the special Indian helmets of the female workers. As in India the female workers carry sand and cement in metal plates usually directly on their head, the helmet must have a special, in the northern countries absolutely unusual form. These helmets are plain on top, so that the worker can continue to place her material there. It is a positive surprise to see measures of occupational safety in India, particular for woman.

Behind the site the settlement arises conspicuous and between both, the old previous plant is located. It is questionable, how much of the disposal get here from the buildings at all. From a big tube water runs the whole time into the tank. On the opposite site it becomes obviously, from where the wild steam which I saw outside the fence get its water: The concrete wall of the tank has already small cracks, from where constantly small runlets of water come out. It is clear, that this is not a planned influent of the small river.

Wastewater treatment plant in front of Beverly Park

The conditions of this tributary leaving the obviously poor constructed and underdimensioned old treatment plant are imaginable. It remains to be seen, if the efforts of the JnNURM will be successful. Presumably the new wastewater treatment plant will also be underdimensioned at the completion date. Surly it is a technical copy of solutions fitting to the global North wastewater systems ant not a adapted, innovative or even sustainable approach.

References:

Gotsch, P. (2009). NeoTowns – Prototypes of corporate Urbanism: Examined on the basis of a new generation of New Towns – by the cases of Bumi Serpong Damai (Jakarta), Navi Mumbai (Mumbai) and Alphaville-Tamboré (São Paulo). Architecture. Retrieved from http://digbib.ubka.uni-karlsruhe.de/volltexte/1000018593 .

Jasmin Mohr
Jasmin Mohr, PhD Student, National Institute of Technology (NIT) Rourkela, Department of Civil Engineering & RWTH Aachen University, Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, Research interest: urbanisation and lifestyle, mohr@lih.rwth-aachen.de See all posts from Jasmin Mohr
  1. our country is very nice. and i love delhi,mumbaiand ahmedabad cityes. thanks

  2. I do follow your blogs regularly. Just to add related to the topic of Megacity. There is new Megacity is being constructed at outskirt of Mumbai at Shilphata road dombvali called Palava. It is going to spread over 4000acres, approved by the Maharashtra Government.

    More details found on http://www.palavacity.com

    Let us see how these megacities shapes our future India. Fingers cross.

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