Defaulting owners could cost south Mumbai its iconic buildings

  • Kunal Purohit, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Apr 18, 2015 23:04 IST

The Mumbai Port Trust’s eviction notice to Colaba’s Metro House may just be the beginning of a long crack down on other buildings that have expired leases – including many iconic ones – across the island city.

The fate of such structures will be decided by two policy documents. First, the port’s master plan, which will decide whether the port trust needs the lands on which the buildings of defaulting leaseholders stand, and second, the land management policy of lands outside the operational port. Both these policies are being prepared by the Union shipping ministry.

The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) owns large swathes of land in the island city, including the three port ‘districts’ of Ballard Estate, Apollo Reclamation Estate (covers large parts of Colaba, including the Apollo Bunder) and the Jamshetji Bunder. These are some very expensive realty.

Between Colaba and Wadala, there are around 2,400 structures across 275 hectares of port land. The lease of many of these lands has expired, which means the leaseholders are defaulters. The port trust has rental arrears amounting to Rs 1,200 crore. So fixing irregularities in the leases will not only boost its revenue, but also send a tough message to the defaulting leaseholders.

The first step is thorough inspection, port chairman Ravi Parmar said. “We don’t want leaseholders to take us for granted. Some of these structures may be iconic, but the leaseholders have not been responsible and have committed many violations.”

Most leases had expired he said. “Despite this, tenants have continued to occupy the areas, because we did not have the staff strength to verify. We have now formed 10 special teams of engineers to inspect every leased out property in the city. We have been sending out notices regularly, especially to those visible defaulters,” Parmar said.

No inspection for years has led to these violations, Parmar said. “We found most have breached various parts of our agreement, from making constructions without our permissions to illegally changing the use of the structures, most leaseholders are guilty.”

Officials from the port’s estate department, on the condition of anonymity, said the fate of the defaulters depended on a number of factors, critical among them being the two ongoing policies – the port master plan and the land management policy for port townships in Kandla and Mumbai.

“The port’s master plan will dictate whether we would require any of the lands on which the structures stand for port purposes. The land policy will dictate the rules that will regulate the use of port-owned lands. These could either ask us to scrap defaulting leases or suggest ways to regularise them,” said a source in the estate department.

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