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Mumbai: Built up, fed up!!

EP.2 — Mumbai

On paper, it all seems pretty logical. To address a pressing shortage of low-income housing, bring in the private sector, and provide the incentives for developers to build free mass housing for this often overlooked income group. Better yet, what if you could have the developers do it at no cost to the government?

This was the plan of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai anyway when the authority introduced “Floor Space Index Regulations” (also known as Air Rights) as a way to make a dent in the city's accumulating housing shortage, as the city's economy boomed in the 90s.

More than twenty years later, it's clear that nothing has gone according to plan. The altered Mumbai skyline bears testimony to this.

“Yes, there have been some benefits to the people receiving free housing. But, on the whole, it is something that has benefited developers more than it has the people who are the supposed recipients of the benefits”, says Anthropologist Vyjyanthi Rao.

“I'm fed up!” Rao says. She has spent the last twenty years researching the effects of regulations like air rights on communities across the city. These unintended consequences include a surge in the construction of hundreds of gleaming, new high-rise buildings throughout the city that have permanently altered its skyline, casting their shadow over an equal number of newly built, crammed, low-rise, poorly constructed apartment blocks into which the poorest of the city are being relocated.

According to Vyjayanthi, the consequences of “Floor Space Index Regulations” (Air Rights) go beyond just housing and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai’s failure to enforce its regulations. It has enormous consequences for the future of the city. Furthermore, Air Rights, after being pioneered in Mumbai, have now become a critical tool adapted by many cities globally to facilitate development.

Understanding this innocuously titled statute and its impact on Mumbai is our focus on episode two of The City Show (TCS).

Can other cities learn anything from what has happened in Mumbai?


Season One of The City Show is funded by Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (MPI-MMG) with support from African Centre for Cities (ACC). Our production partner is The Radio Workshop. Season 1 is part of the CompleXities / DataRama project.

Episode 2 Illustration by Hazem Asif