Affordable housing just an excuse to open up land

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 17, 2016 00:30 IST

As the revised draft development plan and proposed provisions in the development control rules have been made public by the civic body, the new proposals have run into a controversy. The civic body’s proposals to open up land under the no-development zones and salt pans for allowing construction of affordable housing have now attracted criticism.

Under the new plans, the civic body has proposed to open up 3,000 hectares of land for affordable housing. Of this, 2100 hectares is in no-development zone (NDZ), 500 hectares fall under tourism development zone, 260 hectares are salt pans and 140 hectares are of Mumbai Port trust land. A significant portion of the same is privately owned and efforts had been made to allow construction on the same without much result. According to 1991 Development Plan figures, the city had 13,706 hectares of land under the NDZ. Of this, a large chunk (10,351 hectares) was covered under forests, water bodies and ecologically sensitive area closer to the coast. It is still not clear how much of the NDZ has fallen prey to encroachment.

To justify its proposal, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) says it has planned to facilitate construction of 10 lakh affordable houses in the city on this land.

The problem is nobody believes that the city will have something like affordable housing even if large quantity of land--on which construction was not allowed--is now opened for real estate development. Our experience in the city is that the affordable (or low-cost) houses are built only by government agencies such as Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) or City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) in areas such as Navi Mumbai. Very few people would trust private developers to do so. (In fact, we have examples of developers using land meant for low-cost housing to build premium houses.)

For a long time, builders in the city have been eyeing no-development zones, salt pans and idle land occupied by Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) for building towers. It is almost two decades now that proposals are being made to open up salt pans for real estate development. First, the government tried it under the guise of rehousing slum-dwellers. However, it did not work as the Centre was not keen to allow it. Now, the reason cited is building affordable houses.

Time and again, Mumbai has paid heavily for the reckless real estate development in the city. Last time we regretted the massive unplanned growth was during the 26/7 deluge. Mumbai has realised the importance of keeping our open spaces, coastal zones, salt pans and water bodies untouched. Before rushing to open up such areas for real estate development, the state and city authorities should pay attention to the objections raised by the experts and environmentalists.

May be it is also time our authorities stopped pretending that opening land with restrictions on constructions and allowing private developers to use them would solve the problem of non-availability of low-cost housing in the city. The private builders are not capable of doing so because their motive is to earn profits. It will probably work if agencies like Mhada are provided the land to build. Other options could be to provide rapid connectivity between Mumbai and the neighbouring areas where real estate prices are less so people can live there while travelling to the metropolis to work. The government should also step up its efforts to build new growth centres outside Mumbai in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region so that the city will get decongested and little less people will have to travel here for jobs.

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