The state government’s move to de-reserve around 5,000 square metres of the Aarey Milk Colony and change it into a residential zone, a portion of which shall be reserved for a Muslim cemetery, may just be the tip of the iceberg.
On Wednesday, the BMC Improvements Committee had discussed a directive by the Urban Development Department (UDD) to convert the plot from its current status of No Development Zone (NDZ). This was reported by Hindustan Times after corporators, social activists and tribal leaders had alleged that this was a backdoor entry for private builders to grab the last piece of verdant land in Mumbai.
Investigations by HT on Wednesday has revealed that the Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development and Fisheries Department of the State Government had issued a Government Resolution dated June 28, 2006, wherein it was proposed that a private builder in a joint venture with the Aarey Colony would rehabilitate around 6,720 “slum dwellers”, (largely local tibals) from the Aarey Milk Colony on 33.6 acres of land.
For this purpose, the GR said, there was a need to convert that plot into a development zone from its current status of NDZ and build the colony under the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRA) scheme. It had also directed the UDD to start the process of de-reservation of this plot as under the Mumbai Regional Town Planning Act (MRTP) but made it clear not to go ahead on the project till the de-reservation was done.
On the face of it, it sounds like a noble task but the devil lies in the details. The plot selected adjoins the Western Express highway at Goregaon according to local Shiv Sena corporator Sugandha Shetye, who incidentally sees no harm in the proposal.
But MLAs and corporators objecting to the proposal questioned the need to rehabilitate them on prime land earmarked under the green zone, so close to the highway. The sale of the free sale component under the SRA scheme would reap rich dividends to the private builder, they said. Further, tribal leaders themselves have gone on record to state they had never demanded for such a housing colony.
While the slum dwellers will get a total built up area of 23.52 lakh square feet, the private developer will get an equal area for resale, which according to one estimate, will generate a profit of hundred of crores, considering the present land prices in the area which is about Rs 8,000 per sq foot. Moreover, the private builder will get an equal area as ‘construction TDR’ under the 3/11 scheme under the SRA under which the project is floated.
The GR, a copy of which is in HT’s possession, while detailing the scheme notes that around 180 acres of the Aarey milk colony’s 3,200- acre area has been encroached upon. The encroachers, said the GR, cost the government Rs 5 crore annually, in terms of power and water theft and hence the need to rehabilitate them on this plot.
The GR further notes how the Aarey Milk Colony and a private builder, the Bamco Tech private limited, will work on the rehabilitation as a joint venture. Despite persistent attempts, UDD Principal Secretary Ramanand Tiwari was not contactable on his phone.
Added BJP Corporator Ashish Shelar, who first blew the whistle on the scheme in Tuesday’s civic improvement committee meeting, “Such schemes will generate an additional burden on the city’s infrastructure due to the amount of built up area generated.”
The Bamco Tech private limited company, which will undertake the joint venture, once the land is de-reserved, belongs to Kundalik Nagare, former Congress MLA from Jintur in Marathwada. Though Nagare could not be contacted on his cellphone, HT managed to speak to his son Suresh. While Suresh agreed that the company belonged to his father and they were involved in the project, he refused to reveal anything more, including the location of the land where it would come up.
“This proposal is meant to benefit the government. We will meet tomorrow and speak about the other details,” he added. Said Raju Shetty, a Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana MLA from Shirol in Kolhapur, who along with some other MLAs, raised the issue of corruption in the Aarey Milk Corporation in the monsoon session of the state assembly.
“This is a massive scam on the city’s green spaces, which must be subject to an impartial investigation.” Shetty, who is also a member of a MLAs committee set up to investigate the corruption in the colony, has written to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh alleging that the exercise has been undertaken to benefit the builder.
It may be noted that two previous schemes to rehabilitate the Aarey milk colony encroachers, were shot down by the high court in this year and in 2004 by the Diwan Builders, after NGO Citispace complained that the data was fudged. The court also observed that the schemes did not need the amount of land that was being projected.
A visit to the adivasi padas in the area throws up the fact that the tribals, the original inhabitants of the land, but have been classified as encroachers by the state, are unaware of the scheme.
Said Neerja Punj, Convenor, NGO Citizens for Protection of Public Space (Citispace), which initiated the litigations, “The Adivasis may be short-changed in the builder driven SRA scheme. They should rather be provided accommodation in sync with their habitat.”