The proposed redevelopment of 207 Bombay Development Department (BDD) chawls, spread over 92.86 acres of prime real estate in the island city, is in focus again.
The land is located in the heart of the city and presents an opportunity to create a substantial number of badly-needed affordable houses — an estimated 5,000 of them, to be built by private developers and sold by Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA).
Faced by a land shortage, MHADA last year proposed to undertake the makeover itself in a move opposed by residents and the state government.
Apart from new houses on the market, residents of the chawls will get bigger apartments.
"We are working out how to create the maximum number of affordable houses," said Sachin Ahir, minister of state for housing.
The British built the BDD chawls between 1920 and 1925 at a cost of Rs 3.49 crore. The average cost of each room then worked out to Rs 2,115. Most of the residents are Maharashtrians from the weaker economic strata. Their houses measure 140-160 sq ft each for which they pay a monthly rent of less than Rs 100.
Every year, MHADA puts about 4,000 houses on the open market, for which it receives over 4 lakh applicants. While MHADA houses are built mainly in the suburbs, BDD chawls are in localities such as Naigaum, Worli, Lower Parel and Sewri. While private developers in these localities charge upwards of Rs 15,000 per sq ft, MHADA would charge a maximum of Rs 5,000 per sq ft. "We are catering to a segment that can never afford to buy houses from private developers," said Ahir.
A preliminary plan for the redevelopment would be placed within a month before the Cabinet.
Real estate experts endorsed the plan to build affordable houses. "There is hardly any place left in the city. These sites provide the best opportunity to create houses for the labour class," said Anuj Puri, country head, Jones Lang LaSalle India, a leading real estate consultancy.
According to a Mumbai Transformation Support Unit study, developers would have to spend Rs 4,184 crore of the BDD Chawl makeover.
MHADA will get at least 5,000 affordable houses of 600-700 sq ft each while the builders would get 1,632 luxury houses measuring 2,200-3,100 sq ft each.
However, controversy surrounds the plan.
Apart from a cartel of builders lobbying for the real estate pie, residents’ organisations are pressurising the government to ensure they get the best deals.
The Akhil BDD Rahivashi Mahasangh, which claims to be the apex body of residents, said it should have the casting vote. "Since we live here, we should be allowed to select the builder," said Raju Waghmare, president of the organisation. It has demanded two-bedroom-hall-kitchen houses measuring 550 sq ft each in lieu of each chawl tenement. It is said to have shortlisted international agencies to undertake the project.
However, it is opposed by the Akhil BDD Bhadekaru Mahasangh, a residents’ lobby that wants to undertake the project itself. This lobby claims the backing of more than 87 per cent of the chawls’ residents. "We have worked for the last 18 years to make the revamp a reality. The International Finance Corporation is ready to fund it," said Ajay Nakashe, the group’s head.
Both lobbies have warned the state against roping in any third party without its consent. Each claims it is backed by a majority of the 16,544 tenements.
There are indications that the state is keen to rope in private developers for the project.
"This is government property and we will not hand it over to any individual or organisation," said Ahir. "There are too many differences among tenant associations."