No end to dispute over redevelopment rights for gaothans

  • Manoj R Nair, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 22, 2016 23:37 IST

In April, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corportion (BMC), in its Revised Draft Development plan 2034 – the city’s planning guide for the next two decades – made a proposal to allow FSI (floor space index) of 1.5/2 for the city’s gaothans and koliwadas. FSI determines how much you build on a plot of land: an FSI of two means that a building with 2,000 square feet of space can be built on a plot that is 1000 square feet.

The residents of Mumbai’s erstwhile villages – the city’s Ready Reckoner, the guide to property prices and taxes to be paid on purchases, lists around 125 - have been demanding more FSI for two decades. Mumbai, which has grown in size by absorbing villages, has two sets of development rules: while about 80% of the city is governed by planning rules that decide the layout of roads, open space and FSI, the gaothans were exempted from some of the regulations. The villages inside Navi Mumbai are also exempted from these building regulations. One reason why these areas were kept out of the regulations was that it would have been impossible to enforce planning rules in these villages without completely razing these localities to the ground.

In the absence of these rules, residents of the villages could not rebuild or extend their homes. Unlike residents in other parts of the city, they could not demolish their homes and build a larger structure. However, this did not mean that the villages remained untouched by changes. As newcomers, attracted by the cheaper prices of homes, moved into these areas, floors have been added to old buildings, the streets have become narrower and the gaothans have become more congested. Residents of these areas will tell you that all these changes are illegal. “While residents of gaothans are not authorised to redevelop their houses, the ground reality is that most families have already made modifications to their buildings,” said Godfrey Pimenta, a lawyer and resident of Marol village. “If I want to make any changes in my building I will be harassed by local politicians, police and municipal officials.”

So the news that, for the first time, their localities will get extra FSI should have made the inhabitants of these villages happy, but they have called the proposed rules a ‘fraud’. One reason why they have not welcomed the news is that most houses in the localities have already been expanded illegally and have exhausted the extra FSI that will be granted under the new rules.

The two-decade old dispute over redevelopment rights for the goathans seems to be intractable. Last year, when residents of Worli village received letters from the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), the city’s slum clearance agency, informing them that the locality was proposed to be declared a slum, they protested. Labelling a village as a slum will benefit only construction companies, they said. Once an area is classified as slum, construction firms can apply to the SRA for permission to build multi-storeyed housing to replace the huts. As an incentive, the construction companies get higher FSI, which is more than the prevailing rate in the area.

In return for the free flats they construct for the former slum dwellers, the builders are allowed to sell larger residential and commercial units at market prices. Residents of the gaothans are not in favour of the scheme because the free flats will be smaller. The plan to declare Worli villages as slum was withdrawn after protests. Another agitation is on the cards. The proposal to grant extra FSI to the gaothans has been opened up for suggestions and objections. The residents of the villages have said that will oppose the changes.

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