The release of 1,800 acres of land of the Mumbai Port Trust along the eastern seaboard — touted by planners, builders and the government as a quick fix to Mumbai's desperate search for open spaces — may be a chimera.
The Port Trust, in a recent meeting with senior state government officials, has made it clear that the Port Authority has no surplus and the vacant land it can hand over in city precincts may be as little as 12 acres.
The issue came up in the Maharashtra government's empowered committee that monitors the city's development. Chaired by Chief Secretary D Sankaran, Port Trust Deputy Chairman Ashok Bal pointed out that his organisation was "not taken into confidence" when planning the Nhava Sheva-Sewri Sea Link.
This despite the fact that 11 kms of the planned 27-km bridge, slated to link the island city with the Navi Mumbai mainland, traverses the port's land, and traffic dispersal at the Sewri end has to be planned through port property.
"We need the land ourselves," Bal told HT, dismissing reports that the port's parent ministry, the Union Ministry of Surface Transport, was considering opening up port trust land for development. The Port's plan: to build container freight stations.
Port Trust's Estate Manager SM Patil said it held 1,789 acres — more than 24 times the size of Nariman Point — stretching in a 14.5-km arc along the eastern seaboard, from Colaba in the south to Wadala in the north.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority commissioned a plan for that land last year. It envisaged, among other things, freeing "underutilised" space for commercial construction and sought the opening of an internal road Port Trust road from Chembur to Ballard Estate to urban traffic.
Port Trust authorities rejected the government plan.
"They seem to think we are eyeing land development here," a senior bureaucrat told HT on Monday, requesting anonymity to avoid a public disagreement. "We are not. We just want the space to be opened up for the city's use." The bureaucrat argued that Port Trust plans to build container terminals on land would eat into the city's space and hopes for its future.
In June, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh wrote to Shipping Minister T Balu urging him to "advice the Port Trust to jointly work with GOM (Government of Maharashtra) to work out land development’".
The letter said that opening Port Trust land would help Mumbai achieve its "global aspirations".
Port Trust officials trot out their figures: 988 acres are used for docks operations and container freight stations; of the remaining 800 acres, 741.3 acres are leased to government organisations, public sector units and other private tenants.
The government and public sector tenants occupy around 370.6 acres while another 370.6 acres was distributed over as many as 2,886 tenants. This includes the Taj Mahal Hotel at the Gateway of India as well as most of upmarket Ballard Estate.
The Port Trust has managed to wrest 32.1 acres back from tenants using the Public Premises Act. "These lands will be used to develop container freight stations," Patil said. "We have filed affidavits undertaking that they cannot be used for anything else other than port operations."
Of the balance 59.3 acres, around 29.6 acres has been reserved for container freight stations, while 16.48 acres is encroached by slums. The 12 acres of land available for the city's use is distributed over 100 isolated plots, ranging from as small as 24 sq m to 5,000 sq m, the largest.
"We have appointed management consultants KPMG for developing a long-term business plan," said Deputy Chairman Bal. "The future of the disposable 12 acres too will be decided after scrutinising the interim report."
He conceded that Port Trust owned 70 acres of land in an inland location near Titwala, about 80 kms north of Mumbai. Any plan to sell this land too would have to await the final KPMG report, he said.