Is the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) suffering from hubris? Its plan to set up a 101-storey iconic commercial tower in Wadala at a phenomenal cost of over Rs 4,000 crore has raised serious questions about its sense of priority among urban experts and town planners. It has already been touted as one of the 10 tallest buildings in the world.
MMRDA’s think-tank has estimated that the project will earn it a rent of Rs 1,800 crore a year by leasing out 60 lakh sq ft of build up space in the tower to corporates and MNCs. But with recent estimates showing that Mumbai is expected to be flooded with over two crore sq ft of office space by 2011, real estate experts are skeptical about the financial feasibility of MMRDA’s iconic tower.
As it is, office space is going abegging with the numero uno central business district of Nariman Point currently staring at a vacancy level of 10% to 15%. Commercial lease rentals have already crashed by 25% to 50% in different commercial enclaves of the city. And the situation is expected to worsen with excessive supply of office space flooding the market in the next two years.
Knight Frank India chairman Pranay Vakil said given the market conditions the MMRDA project does not make any sense. "The Dharavi redevelopment project itself is expected to generate two crore sq ft of commercial space. It will be difficult to see what the demand will be for office space two to three years down the line,” he said.
A former state government town planner, not wishing to be identified, feared that the MMRDA tower is a big financial risk. "Will they get the right kind of returns. Moreover, is Wadala a prominent location to set up such a building?” he wondered.
Former MMRDA commissioner Dev Mehta said the authority should not behave like a builder. "Its core focus is planning and infrastructure development. MMRDA was never into constructing individual buildings. It has got its priorities wrong,” he observed. Another government source said the MMRDA has always been governed and controlled by politicians and a coterie of bureaucrats and has never been a representative body for Mumbai.
"Is it a real estate agency or a planning agency? MMRDA seems to be on a development spree and less involved in planning for the city,” said Aneerudha Paul, director of the Kamla Raheja Vidanidhi institute for architecture and environmental studies.
Environmentalist Shyam Chainani said MMRDA was set up as a planning for the entire Mumbai metropolitan region spread over 4,000 sq kms. "There are only a few countries in the world which are still constructing tall buildings. They are not cost and energy efficient,” he added.
Chainani questioned the MMRDA’s logic of building an iconic structure. "At what cost? Are we saying we are better than Dubai?” he asked, adding that MMRDA is not a building contractor.
According to the US-based Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (BTBUH), tall buildings have enjoyed almost two decades of unprecedented development built in greater number, height and geographical spread than at any time in history. "However, that position is now under threat from the twin challenges of global climate change and a severe international economic recession. Many projects are being cancelled, put on hold or reducing their pace of moving forward as the recession tightens, and questions are increasingly being asked of the sustainable credentials of high rise, especially in light of some of the design excesses of the past decade,” said its latest newsletter.
CTBUH is holding a conference later this year to discuss whether tall buildings are meeting the challenges of climate change and the appropriateness for a tall building to be used as an icon to project the vitality of a city on a competitive world business stage.