Urban Planning Response in Mumbai During the COVID-19 Lockdown: A Citizen’s Charter

cover image urban planning response for covid 2020


This document outlines an urban action plan in the second phase of the lockdown (14th April to 30th April 2020) imposed by the government during the COVID-19 outbreak. Included in this post is the introduction section, the summary of recommendations, and the list of contributors and signatories.


The government’s role is not simply to declare a lockdown and enforce it. Rather, it is to set up mechanisms and services such that people do not have to move out of their homes out of fear, want or desperation. The government’s response needs to encourage physical distancing, not to coerce it. Apart from taking appropriate economic measures and preventing supply chain breakdowns at the national and state levels, the public planning response needs to address the challenges in dense urban settlements at the ward and neighbourhood levels – challenges that are compounded by the staggering socio-economic inequities that are a result of decades of disastrous ‘market-oriented’ planning and development policy. It has been the pre-pandemic “normal” that has imposed severe limits on a systematic government response during the pandemic.

From an urban planning perspective, the goal of physical distancing requires that (1) people do not converge one place – especially in an enclosed environment – to risk spread; (2) we minimize the need for people to have to move out of their homes; (3) we carry out proactive testing and provide enhanced access to healthcare: checkups, testing, treatment – to be able to detect cases quickly; isolating, caring for and treating those infected; and preventing others from getting infected.

In Mumbai, the current approach so far has been to force people to stay home (by punishing those who venture out), and imposing strict quarantines in areas where cases have been detected. The MCGM has taken some steps thus far with regard to testing centres, mapping cases and quarantines. Nevertheless, a rapid opinion survey conducted by speaking to 50 respondents in low income neighbourhoods reveals that 68% of respondents find the food problem “very difficult” or “a crisis.” About 77% of the respondents report that they are not receiving food as promised, and 23% find that while they are receiving food supplies, these are insufficient. A full daily summary of the survey (Annex 1) and an area wise list of urgent issues (Annex 2) shows difficulties faced by people in terms of food, sanitation, water supply as well as healthcare.

The MCGM must declare a financial policy for COVID-19. Despite these very serious and urgent challenges that require prioritizing public health, food security, basic services and shelter, the MCGM continues work on non-essential infrastructure projects like the Rs. 13,000 Coastal Road project – instead of diverting these resources on tackling the pandemic.


  1. There need to be special mechanisms for people to voice their grievances – the civic administration is now unreachable since the ward offices are operating on a skeletal basis.
  2. The PDS must be universalized, and rations for atleast 3 months should be made available for free to anyone who approaches a ration shop till the economic shock of the lockdown subsides.
  3. The MCGM must urgently open up many more cooked food distribution centres, and spread them out based on population density (more centres in electoral wards with higher densities). Each of the distribution centres must also limit the provision (to say 200-300 packets per shift) to ensure that too many people do not gather in them.
  4. The MCGM must set up a mobile fleet of food delivery vans that can reach different places on call.
  5. A moratorium must be declared on all evictions by state authorities, or by landlords due to rent defaults. The government must device a program to protect informal rental tenants from evictions.
  6. The government must immediately set up an emergency shelter program through which government buildings, institutions, and un-allotted (but acceptable) rehabilitation units are all prepared for accommodation in conformity with physical distancing norms.
  7. The government may also consider renting rooms from hotels / guest houses for the duration of the lockdown for people who need safe and adequate housing.
  8. Vacant rehabilitation housing (that meets public health and safety standards) needs to be opened up as self-quarantine homes for infected persons or persons with symptoms in areas where infection rates are high.
  9. Migrant workers who are keen to return to their villages must be allowed to leave in safe and dignified manner. The government must therefore make all the arrangements, after testing people for COVID infection, and provide a free and safe passage for the uninfected to leave.
  10. Sanitation equipment (masks, sanitizers, disinfectants, etc) and training must be provided to community based organisations to take necessary precautions and for sanitizing their own neighbourhoods. This equipment may be supplied by the city’s public bus system (BEST) that continues to operate buses during the lockdown.
  11. All available public toilet infrastructure (privately built public toilets, toilets at railway stations, in public spaces, etc) be opened up without charge during the lockdown. The MCGM must set up mobile toilets in areas lacking sanitation facilities.
  12. The MCGM must ensure that water supply in all slum settlements by installing stand-post connections on an urgent basis in areas where a municipal supply network exists, or by installing large capacity water tanks with multiple taps. Where both these options are unfeasible, tanker supply must be arranged on a regular basis (at least twice daily).
  13. COVID testing must be made free of cost at both public and private labs, to advance the detection of cases in the city. Testing is the most important measure in being able to combat the pandemic, and any barriers to proactive testing must be removed.
  14. Frequent check-ups and tests of all of the frontline workers must be undertaken every few days. Proper gear and safety equipment must be made available at regular intervals as considered appropriate by health experts.
  15. Government must take over private/charitable hospitals for testing and treatment if necessary, and treatment for COVID-19 should be free of cost in the public as well as private facilities.
  16. The MCGM must declare a financial policy for Covid 19, setting aside spending on all non-essential infrastructure projects (such as the coastal road) to ensure it has adequate resources.



  1. Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA)
  2. Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA)
  3. Homeless Collective (HC)
  4. Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
  5. Paani Haq Samiti (PHS)


  1. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
  2. Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST (AMAB)
  3. Habitat and Livelihood Welfare Association (HALWA)
  4. Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan (JSA)
  5. Movement for Peace and Justice (MPJ)
  6. Photography Promotion Trust (PPT)
  7. People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra


Social Ecology of the Shallow Seas: A Report on the Impacts of Coastal Reclamation on Artisan Fishing in the Worli Fishing Zone


This is a study of the relationship between coastal ecology and the practices of coastal communities that depend on it for livelihood. The study adopts a social-ecological approach to highlight the interrelationships between the physical, ecological, and social processes that constitute artisan fishing practice. It aims to understand the impacts of coastal infrastructure projects and land reclamation that is likely to adversely affect the livelihoods of Mumbai’s fisherfolk.

On 8th March 2019, the report was released at a press conference by fishworkers organizations, environmental and human rights groups. This report has been tendered in the High Court in the matter of the fisherfolk.

The full report will soon be available online for public circulation on this site.

Mahul PAP Township: Conditions Of Housing, Neighbourhood Planning And Quality Of Community Services : A Preliminary Report


December 2017

This preliminary report is based on ground surveys and spatial analysis (using GIS software) conducted by the authors to evaluate the conditions of Mahul township and its livability.

The Mahul Projected Affected Persons (PAP) township is built under the SRA’s 33(10) Clause 3.11, or the PAP scheme.  The scheme area of Mahul is 16.15 Ha. There are 17,205 tenements built in the scheme that are meant to accomodate 86,025 inhabitants. It was developed originally for rehabilitating hutment dwellers displaced due to the implementation of the Brihanmumbai Storm Water Disposal System (BRIMSTOWAD). The township is less than 50% occupied. The MCGM is trying to rehabilitate hutment dwellers that it is evicting along the Tansa Pipleline, and is facing strong opposition from the families being relocated. People have complained about the unlivability of the township due to its proximity to the Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) refinery, inaccessible location (the nearest railway station, Sion, is 7.0 km away), poor neighbourhood planning, insanitary conditions, absence of social infrastructure and absence of livelihood opportunities.

The report argues that the conditions of the settlement are extremely poor, and making it habitable calls for radical alterations in its overall layout and design, major repairs, and upgradation of infrastructure and services. The only way it can be made habitable is if more than half of the buildings are pulled down to create more open spaces, community facilities are built, the remaining buildings are repaired and modified to create markets and workshops, if sanitation and services are repaired and improved, if access to public transport is augmented, and if employment suitable to the skills of workers rehabilitated here are available nearby.

Download the full report here





Accessibility Audit of the Mumbai Suburban Railway Stations

Audit Conducted between 2nd November – 2nd December 2016 as directed by the Bombay High Court, by Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA) and Indian Center for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL). Click to download full report


Introduction: Accessibility and Barrier Free Built Environments

Mumbai’s Suburban Railway Network provides an affordable and efficient mode of transport to more than 7.5 million commuters daily, but suffers from severe overcrowding, unsafe conditions, and poor accessibility for persons with disabilities. In October 2016, the Bombay High Court directed the petitioners of a PIL (No. 27 of 2007) filed by the Indian Center for Human Rights and Law & Others to undertake an accessibility audit of all the Suburban Railway stations in Mumbai. It was undertaken by the Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA), an urban research and planning group, along with the Indian Center for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL).

The purpose of this audit is to identify all the obstacles and barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities and senior citizens on the Suburban Railway network, in order to assist the Railway authorities in improving its facilities and services, and produce an environment that enable all people to access its transit infrastructure independently and on an equal basis.

The survey was conducted based on the guidelines prepared and published by the Ministry of Urban Development in 2016, called the Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards on Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons With Disabilities and Elderly Persons, 2015 (HG2015) and the Railway Board guidelines for passenger amenities for persons with disabilities, 2013 (RBG2013).

The Findings in Brief:

The accessibility audit of the Mumbai Suburban Railway stations reveals a very low general level of compliance to the Ministry of Urban Development and Railway Board guidelines. The overall compliance level is 37.7% for all stations, and a slightly higher 39.4% for all the major stations. The Western Line (40.6%) fares better than the Central Line (38.6%) for all their stations overall, but the major stations of the Central Line (42.5%) do marginally better than the major stations of the Western Line (41.9%). The Harbour Line is well below the average at 33.8% overall compliance, with its major stations (32.8%) doing worse than the overall Harbour Line score.

Stations of the Island City and Suburbs fare similarly for all lines. The major stations of the Suburbs do better (44.6%) than those of the Island City (42.1%). While the stations of the Central Line in Mumbai’s Suburbs do better than others (47.5%), the Harbor Line stations in the MMR Region and beyond do most abysmally at 27.9%.

Of all the 122 stations, only 16 (or 13%) have achieved compliance of over 50%, however, none of them crosses the 60% mark. While 106 stations score less than 50% in compliance, 48 stations (or 40% stations) have compliance levels of less than 35%. Of all stations, Matunga Road, Dadar (Central) and Kanjurmarg do best comparatively with 57.8%, 57.7% and 57.6% respectively.

General Observations:

Most of the entrance areas are inaccessible for persons with disabilities. The quality of construction is extremely poor generally, with uneven surfaces, broken tiles, and improper details. Rarely does one find guiding paths from drop-off points to entrance areas, or ramps for ingress into the station buildings. Booking offices have shown some improvements due to construction of special counters for wheelchair users and visually impaired persons, but almost no station has trained personnel to assist persons with disabilities. No station has provided tactile schedules. Though some platforms have guiding paths and audio signals to assist persons with disabilities, in many cases the location of these were improper, making it difficult if not dangerous for commuters. Most platforms did not have toilets for persons with disabilities. Circulation features are often provided without a clear understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities and without an overall conception. Almost always, stairs have inconsistent tread and riser ratios, as no edge indicators. Ramps, where provided, have to steep a slope for a wheelchair user. In most stations toilets for persons with disabilities are absent, and wherever these are built, they are insufficient in number, and almost always locked.


Survey Approach and Grading Method:

The audit was devised based on two guidelines – the HG2015 and RBG2013. To identify the barriers and obstacles to accessibility, the survey methodology was developed based on the way commuters use the railway stations and its various services, as a set of spaces and features. Spaces are understood as well defined areas or areas that serve a broad function – such as approach & entrance, ticket purchase, horizontal movement, vertical movement, waiting, resting, administration, etc. By features we mean the set of properties, elements or objects that constitute, are contained within, or help transition through these spaces, such as counters, booths, stairs, paths, audio or visual signs, illumination, surfaces, etc. These spaces and features were then investigated for their presence / absence and accessibility in the form of 104 queries, that were recorded as graded responses. The findings were eventually assessed as compliance (percentage) with the above mentioned guidelines. The findings were also analysed and compared along the three lines – Western, Central and Harbor (including Trans-Harbour) – and along three regions – Island City, Mumbai Suburbs and the Metropolitan Region (MMR and Beyond). Here is an overview of the 8 Spaces and some of the Features surveyed, and some of the survey findings (for the detailed findings and analysis, download the full report here).

(1) Entrance Areas: which includes the approach to the buildings and their visibility. The features that were inspected were steps, ramps, handrails, signages and surface quality of the floor. Some findings:


(2) Ticketing Counters: include the booking offices, and were inspected for features such as accessible counters, interfaces, communication of schedules and prices, and illumination of the area. Some findings:


(3) Platforms: the most conspicuous space of every station, platforms are the one or many areas to board and alight trains, and were assessed for its various features such as guiding paths, safety indicators and elements, sound signals, directions, schedules and other signs, quality of floor surfaces, entry and exit points, toilets, etc. Some findings:


(4) Circulation: in this case is understood as the spaces that help commuters move horizontally in every station, and were inspected for sizes, obstructions, guiding paths, signs, surface quality, benches, etc. Some findings:



(5) Level Changes: are spaces that enable to move people vertically – using features such as stairs, ramps, lifts, etc. These were evaluated for safety, surface quality, communication, sizes, guides, etc. Some findings:

level changes.jpg

(6) Toilets: were be assessed for their suitability for persons with disabilities. Features such as signs, mirrors, handles, doors, grab bars, alarm systems, faucets, surfaces, etc. will be assessed for safety, communication, location, sizes, etc.:


(7) Waiting Areas / Offices / Eateries: consist of the spaces for administrative and service functions, and features such as counters, tables, seats, audio and visual aids, etc. were inspected:


(8) Parking / Drop Off Areas: were evaluated for adequacy in terms of number of parking spaces for persons with disabilities, visual indicators, seamless approaches and distances:



Special care was taken to understand the constraints within which the Railways operate while formulating the survey. Through various affidavits, the Railways has expressed its difficulty in implementing accessibility guidelines due to congestion, heavy flow of passengers and space constraints. It is with an understanding of these constraints that the questions have been framed. For instance, since ramps may not be possible due to limited space on some stations except with considerable expense and restructuring, the survey accepts accessible lifts as an alternative. Similarly, it may quite difficult for the Railways to provide parking spaces on some stations, hence the survey assumes well designed drop off points and approach areas as an acceptable substitute. However, none of these constraints can be considered too severe to prevent the Railways from finding any solutions to make spaces or features accessible.

Click to download full report

Deposition at the Independent People’s Tribunal on the Coastal Road : Hussain Indorewala


This presentation will try to show why the Coastal Road Project (CRP) is sure to be counter-productive from the perspective of traffic congestion management, wasteful in terms of public expenditure, disruptive in terms of ecology and livelihoods, and ignores cheaper and more efficient alternatives. The project will increase the number of vehicles on the road, cause considerable environmental damage and adversely impact livelihoods of fishing communities. Moreover, as a project that serves to transport not more than 1.5% of the city’s population on any given day it is more of a private amenity than a public good. And despite doing nothing to ease the burden on the congested public transport network, the public will be made to finance this fundamentally in-egalitarian project.

Download full document here