The state government's draft retail policy has gone all out to promote malls as an essential amenity and proposes land to be reserved for malls in the city's development plan. "Creating a zone for retail and recreation would ensure there is an increase in consumption and more importantly would raise the standard of well-being of citizens," states the draft policy. It adds that large international standard malls require larger land parcels. "The earmarked spaces for retail/entertainment developments would also rationalize land prices to support retail development," reads the draft policy which proposes the government provide retail areas with direct access to mass public transport systems.
Pankaj Joshi, executive director, Urban Design Research Institute, said the draft policy does not identify the problems of the retail business and offers no solution either. "It is a real estate promotion offering higher floor space index and setting up of recreational facilities on area reserved for recreation ground," he said. Slamming the policy Joshi said the proposal, asking for allowing increased building heights and relaxing fire norms, is nothing short of callousness. "Those who have drafted the policy do not seem to have heard about the Uphaar tragedy in Delhi," he said.
Viren Shah, president, Federation of Retail Traders and Welfare Association, has accused the BJP government of playing favourites and drafting a policy promoting malls while completely ignoring small traders. In 2008, a committee, headed by former public works department secretary N V Merani, found several multiplexes and shopping malls in the city violating fire safety norms. The committee had surveyed 33 malls, 18 functioning and 15 under-construction ones, which had come up in Mumbai. None conformed to fire safety norms.
Consultant G D Chiplunkar, however, said the new fire safety norms require that special buildings like malls must have their own dedicated fire officers. "The law is in place to ensure that fire norms are not violated," he said. On the proposal to allow 70% ground coverage, Chiplunkar said it is a known fact that customers are reluctant to go to higher floors to shop. Hence shop-keepers prefer to be on the ground floor. "While this has been proposed, it is not at the cost of recreation ground or the side open spaces," he said.
Joshi, however, said there is a complete disconnect between what the policy proposes and ground reality. "At a time when consumers, particularly the youth, are shifting to online shopping it is strange that the draft retail policy should concentrate on malls. How does increase in FSI help a mall in Latur where the problems of retail may be completely different?" he asked.