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Mumbai’s Chief Planning Officer envisions the region in 2036

Uma Adusumilli, Chief Planner, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, talks to Sarah Wray at SmartCitiesWorld about the region’s smart city priorities, plans and a 20-year vision.

Mumbai’s Chief Planning Officer envisions the region in 2036

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region, made up of 17 cities, is 10 times larger in area than the city of Mumbai and has a total population of over 22 million, compared to Mumbai City’s 12 million. Adusumilli’s role is to help coordinate development and planning across the entire region. Here’s how she approaches it.

SW: What key challenges do you face in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region?

UA: A fifth of the regional area is under forest cover and nearly 10% is under coastal wetland so it’s a very environmentally sensitive area. At the same time, we are gifted with these natural elements. We also have great water resources and biodiversity, including four national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

However, like many other Indian cities, we face issues such as floods, garbage, a lot of people living in slums, and inadequate and not-so-green infrastructure. We have an additional issue in the city of Mumbai, in that we rely too greatly on the private sector to deliver a lot of public goods and services.

We also rely on regulatory systems to deliver environmental benefits, rather than government directly intervening and investing in infrastructure systems that will result in more recycling, a reduction in waste, etc.

Further, the whole region is under redevelopment – everywhere things are being pulled down and reconstructed. That in itself creates environmental and financial displacement issues.

A lot of industry has left the Mumbai region and surrounding area too, and that is impacting employment opportunities.

SW: How can smart city initiatives help tackle these challenges?

UA: In terms of why Mumbai wants to become a smart city/region, our main issue is still basic infrastructure. While we are combining data systems and IT solutions, the basic core issues still remain the same and need to be addressed: garbage, floods, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable green infrastructure, the poor condition of public transportation systems, etc.

Also, our inability to prioritise climate change issues and mitigation of those impacts is an issue for us. We need to address these very, very fundamental issues through smart city solutions.

SW: You are managing a large, diverse and complex area. How do you turn this into a strategy you can use?

UA: We recently released a new Metropolitan Regional plan for the next 20 years, up to 2036, which looks at the five regional priorities:

  • To develop several growth centres to enable better dispersal of jobs throughout the region;
  • Ensuring rural areas have better and more equal access to advanced infrastructure, employment and finance. This involves classifying them into clusters with similar characteristics and promoting local development centres to address shared issues;
  • Implementing environmental improvement measures;
  • Updating the current planning and regulatory mechanism to support the new transportation systems, environmental systems and employment opportunities identified. By law, we can’t currently impose anything regional on city plans and strategies. The regional plan identifies cross-city issues, strategies and plans and it will soon be binding on the cities to look at them, propose changes for public debate and take a decision.
  • Establishing a robust regional information system to aid well-informed planning. This includes core institutions, which will co-ordinate information.

SW: With this in mind, how do you think Mumbai will be different in 2036?

UA: For the first time, we are seeing slowing of population growth. Some parts of Mumbai are already experiencing negative population growth, so we expect that in the next 20 years, the population will stabilise.

We see Mumbai becoming a large global financial centre and anticipate that we will have reconciled a lot of land use management.

Public transportation will be better and more comfortable. Around $60 billion is currently being invested in public transportation infrastructure. Now, 80% of trips are made by public transport, so we don’t expect this to rise, but we will try to hold onto that. We expect that in the next 20 years, the need for and amount of travel will be reduced, thanks to technology and better dispersal of jobs.

Housing should become more affordable, but that also requires a context shift – from the price of home ownership to making homes affordable even on a rental basis. There must be policies and investments into rental housing creation.

We want to see manufacturing and industrial development returning to this region, which will create a more secure situation and will have an impact on everything from lowering crime to improving mental health.

SW: What are the major challenges to achieving this vision?

UA: I think the biggest challenge in achieving smart cities for us is that we still have not been able to address poor enforcement mechanisms. Whether it’s a project, plan, policy or financing instrument, there are a lot of leakages and there’s non-adherence to public-purpose targets.

I think we need to address these things so that any other instrument that we create becomes successful and delivers what we expect it to deliver.

We plan well, we have a mission, but then on ground people will only benefit when we are able to deal with this issue.


Uma Adusumilli has previously worked with the RICS’ World Built Environment Forum on issues surrounding urbanisation and the development of the built environment. The RICS World Built Environment Forum Summit is coming to London next week (23-24 April), and will focus on how cities are going to be transformed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, along with the other opportunities and challenges facing the built environment over the coming decades.

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