A tall tower looms over the narrow lanes of Khotachi-wadi, a picturesque gaothan in south Mumbai, marring the beauty of the century-old precinct. Gaothans are ancient settlements that house ethnic groups of a particular community.
There were 65 old bungalows in Khotachiwadi and over the years more than 37 have given way to multi-storey towers.
Khotachiwadi in Girgaum, Bandra Gaothan and Matherpakadi near Mazagaon are on the heritage list.
The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee in 1999 framed guidelines to control the indiscriminate construction near the gaothans. The guidelines were sent to the state in 2007 and it is yet to approve it.
“But these guidelines were never passed due to lack of political will. And hence the projects under the cluster development don’t have a restriction to height marring the heritage nature of these precincts,” said Sharada Dwivedi, historian and former member of the committee.
Ignoring these guidelines, the state framed the cluster development policy which had adversely affected the heritage look of the gaothans. In cluster development, heritage structures, government buildings and slums will be clubbed together to be redeveloped with a higher FSI.
This has allowed tall towers around most gaothans. The guidelines restricted the height of constructions depending on their distance from the gaothan precincts.
The core zone, the closest to the heritage precinct, restricts construction to two floors. In the buffer zone, construction should be restricted to ground plus three and in peripheral zone a construction of not more than four floors should be allowed.
According to heritage activists, the plan threatens the distinct visual character of the city, by aiming to replace it with a skyline of homogenous high-rises.
All these gaothans and listed precincts are dying a slow death due to the state’s cluster development policy that began in 1999.
Last week, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said a survey will be conducted in Khotachiwadi and structures that have come up without the necessary permission marring the beauty of the gaothan will be demolished.
“The CM’s statements are a respite to lot of heritage activists who are trying to save the city’s roots,” said Dinesh Afzulpurkar, committee chairman.