The controversial idea to open up salt pan lands for development has been welcomed by the real estate industry. Builders, who are in for a windfall if the proposal becomes a reality, said it would considerably ease Mumbai’s housing problem.
They pointed out that closing the gap between supply and demand would also significantly lower home prices.
“Opening salt pans for development will decongest the city considerably and ease the housing shortage. This would automatically ensure a fall in prices,” said Anuj Puri, chairman and country head, Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj, a leading real estate consultancy firm. In most parts of the world where salt pans have been developed, he said, there has been a spurt in the construction of high-end luxury houses and hotels due to the proximity of the sea.
“[In Mumbai,] the state can force developers to construct affordable houses by citing social reasons,” Puri added.
About 6,000 acres in Mumbai are covered by salt pans, mainly concentrated in the eastern suburbs.
Builders said all development avenues should be explored. “Salt pan land and port areas are the only available spots in the island city and they should be put to use. We can free up these lands in small parcels rather than opening the entire stretch in one go,” said Vishal Jumani, director, Supreme Universal, a leading construction company. However, he added, a detailed environmental study should be conducted first.
Subodh Runwal, director, Runwal Group, which constructed Mumbai’s biggest mall in Ghatkopar, agreed. “Land closer to the sea and mangroves should not be disturbed. Only salt pans in landlocked areas should be freed up,” he said.
Builders have been demanding the removal of restrictions on development of salt pan land for a long time. The state government had requested the Central Government to permit rehabilitation of slum dwellers or those displaced by infrastructure projects on salt pans, but the Centre hasn’t obliged so far.
Environmentalists described the idea as “suicidal”. “Salt pan lands are the balancing reservoirs against the rise of sea levels. There will be havoc if they are disturbed,” warned Bittu Sahgal, environmentalist.