Of a new ‘tall’ order
   Date :19-Mar-2020

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Vijay Phanshikar :
Move anywhere in the city, at any time of the day or night, in any season, and your eyes will be assailed by tall structures emerging out of the urban landscape -- in various stages of construction or completion. In increasing numbers, most new structures are getting taller and far more robust, almost causing a visual offence of sorts. Some structures seem to grow upward endlessly, adding floors to their edifices. So tall do some structure appear that one cannot count the number of floors while passing by; one has to pause on the way, stand by the roadside and then offer a steady gaze to count the number of floors. Many of these structures are so tall that one cannot actually accommodate the top in one’s vision. Then you remind yourself: Come on, this is the new Nagpur in the making, in line with all other urban centres in the country and the world and you have no choice but to accept what is happening.
Yet, a thought lingers back in the mind for a long time about the propriety of idea behind this new ‘tall’ order of the evolving urban landscape -- of Nagpur in the instant case. One does not know how much scope architects of these new structures have about the exterior design of the buildings. For, when a structure rises menacingly high in the air on a relatively small plot of land, the scope to play with various aesthetic dimensions of design may be fairly limited.
No matter that, the spectacle from any vantage point in the city offers almost-similar-looking structures butting into the sky everywhere without offering any respite to the human eye on the basis of grandeur or shape and size and aesthetics. What meets the eye all the time is the hugeness of the structure that rises in most cases to beyond a hundred feet from the ground. Apart from the design aspect of these tall additions to the city’s skyline, there also is an aspect of utility. True, we -- as a society -- have accepted vertical growth of cities as an imperative. But until a few years ago, there were in practice certain unassailable rules and building by-laws that no one could violate for any reason.
There were strict norms about the rise of the structure above the ground. There were strict rules of Floor Space Index (FSI). In those days, even as it was growing, Nagpur offered a pleasant persona as norms still governed urban growth. Elevation Control Law, too, was in good effect and good measure. But then, the society was also waking up to a commercial wisdom -- that the laws can be changed to accommodate not just human need but also greed. And that wisdom has been in operation for quite many years now. So, the restrictions on the FSI were countered by a smart move that is so pompously called Transferable Developmental Rights (TDR).
This law is nothing but an arrangement to offer extra FSI to builders -- of course at a cost, official plus unofficial -- to make possible buildings and structures that defy all norms of utility and aesthetic. By most norms of law-making, the TDR may even be considered as an unconstitutional law. But this is not the place to discuss that. Here, the issue is the principle of vertical growth we have accepted as an imperative of urban development. Taken in this limited sense, the only expectation is that the authorities and people do not lose sense of priority and propriety. Of course, this is an expression of a mind that harbours different dreams that may not match with those of others.