Aiming for greater heights

Sky is the limit

Aiming for greater heights

Bangalore and other major metros in the country are hoping that the government would permit more vertical growth in the country. Prashanth G N writes about the Centre’s safety concerns and builders’ ambitions.

Builders in Bangalore have been keen on developing the city vertically for some years now, realising that availability of land would be a constraint in the immediate future. But vertical growth has never been part of Indian culture, except in parts of Mumbai, and now the Delhi NCR. The country has always gone in for horizontal growth. The builders community want to reverse by going vertical. But is the government willing to give the go ahead?

FSI demands

Bangalore-based builders have sounded out the urban development ministry at the Centre to look at their proposal on what is called the Floor Space Index (FSI) or the extent that you can build vertically depending on the width of the road — wider the road, higher the vertical growth permitted and lower the width of the road, lower the vertical growth permitted. Therefore, the road width will determine how high a housing complex, office building or apartment can be built.

Builders have proposed flexibility on FSI, as they assure that all safety measures the government prescribes, would be adhered to. This proposal was thought off many years ago, but now and then proposals are moved to the union ministry for urban development for approval. Typically, approval takes a lot of time.

In Bangalore, the maximum height one can build or built-up area is three times the floor area. If a builder has 10,000 sq feet of land, the built-up area cannot exceed 32,000 sq feet in vertical terms, which is three times the floor area. This is because the FSI has been fixed at a maximum of 3.25 and that too for roads with width of 80 feet and above. What this means is the builders are restricted to certain areas of the city — only where roads wide enough. That means vertical development even upto 3.5 FSI will not be possible in large portions of the city. Growth would be curtailed. The major roads where vertical growth upto 3.5 FSI is allowed are the Outer Ring Road, several roads in Whitefield, Jayanagar and J P Nagar, Hebbal main road to the airport and certain roads in Sarjapur. Other than these areas, Vittal Mallya Road and portions of M G Road are available for vertical development within the Central Business District (CBD).

Builders are looking at increasing the FSI for two reasons — one is to enhance residential and commercial development of the city and therefore their own growth, and the other to create a revenue pocket for the government. Builders say they would pay the government higher fee for higher vertical growth permitted. This phenomenon has been witnessed the world over, and in India, Andhra Pradesh is the only state, which has liberalised the sector so far. Developers argue that if AP can do it, what prevents other states from implementing the policy? Parts of Mumbai and Delhi have higher FSI than Bangalore. The Bandra-Kurla sector in Mumbai and NCR in Delhi have been permitted to go vertical higher than the average FSI of around 3.

Safety first

According to developers in Bangalore, safety measures can be implemented even if buildings go high. Technologically, builders say, packages can be evolved to install safety measures in buildings even as they are being built. If the government is willing to amend certain rules, builders are ready to present the different technologically-driven safety packages.

Singapore and New York have extremely high FSIs and both cities have grown vertically. While New York is larger, Singapore is a small island city-state, which is smaller than Bangalore and yet it has the world’s best companies are housed in its towering commercial space. Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur too has a similar facade. Given these examples and the low rate of mishaps, Bangalore need not be faulted for seeking permission for greater heights.

The model most governments have in India is horizontal growth. This may prove futile when there is no land left for acquisition. Left with no choice, governments will have to look at vertical growth. Builders ask why wait that long? According to them, higher FSI would mean better use of floor space, a source of revenue to the government, better management of land and a trigger to build modern infrastructure.

There are several projects within the city where higher vertical growth is being sought — an important one being at the metro station on Sampige Road. Then there’s Devanahalli, but matter is under consideration because of proximity to the airport and the IAF campus at Yelahanka. Certain projects close to International Technology Park Bangalore in Whitefield are also seeking higher vertical growth.

All projects would be looked at one by one with specific factors being examined for approval by the government. The process requires a good bit of negotiation between the builders and the government to sort out the tricky issue of safety. Safety is the biggest concern the government has, as it is unsure what 100 ft floors would mean in a residential area or a packed commercial set up. It is now the time to wait and watch, as the Centre is expected to take some decision on vertical growth following a recent proposal given to the government by the builders community.

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