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Mall, office towers rise on land for infotech use

Solo probe by executive using RTI law uncovers misuse of land and construction concessions in Vashi, reports Chitrangada Choudhury.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2006 21:46 IST

Solo investigations by a senior corporate executive have forced the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to probe how three prime plots - allotted at concessional rates for infotech use and so allowed double the construction rights - are being transformed into a shopping mall and office towers.

Madura Coats vice-president Sandip Thakur used the Right To Information (RTI) Act to extricate land allotment details of the plots in Vashi's "knowledge corridor", Sector 30-A right outside Vashi station.

Raghuleela Megamall

Size: 15,515 sq m

On paper: Land allotted at concessional rates for IT, FSI of 3 granted

On ground: A mall with over 200 shops; Big Bazaar under construction

Developer’s defence: Wadhwa Builders’ designated spokesperson Navin Makhija wouldn’t comment on the issue
BSEL Tech Park

Size: 4,275 sqm

On paper: Land allotted at concessional rate for IT, FSI of granted

On ground: 13-floor commercial complex with clients like Bajaj Auto, Birla Sunlife, Hutch

Developer’s defence: "The inquiry is misguided. All my patrons fall within the norms since their offices use computers. I am replying to the NMMC notices," Dharmendra Raiture, MD of BSEL Infrastructure Realty Ltd.
Micro Info Tech Park

Size: 2,552 sqm

On paper: Land allotted at concessional rate for IT, FSI of granted.

On ground: Nine-floor commercial complex with clients like Birla Sunlife, ICICI

Developer’s defence: "We will not allot it for anything other than the permitted use," said Sampat Haigude, manager, Hawre Builders. However the building’s website mentions ‘shops and offices’ available for sale.

Thakur has found the Raghuleela Megamall and two commercial complexes of nine and 13 floors respectively being built where there should have been infotech companies (see box).

Such zoning violations are rampant in Mumbai, but were supposed to have been strictly controlled in Navi Mumbai.

"Documents show that the developers have used 3 FSI (double the prevailing 1.5 Floor Space Index, or ratio of total floor area of building to plot size), which was given to them under the condition of housing software development firms," said Thakur. "But there is no such activity happening." He asked, "Can such a large violation take place without official involvement?"

The violations are lucrative: the plots are prized real estate. A 4,200 sqm plot adjoining Raghuleela Megamall was auctioned on November 10 for Rs 2.1 lakh per sqm rents for shops and offices in the three buildings range from Rs 8,000-15,000 per sq ft.

Municipal Commissioner Madhukar Kokate has now asked his officials to check the building plans and land use. Site visits have also taken place, and notices issued by the 'Encroachment Department' to one of the alleged violators, BSEL Realty, and its tenants, which include Hutch, Birla Sunlife and Bajaj Auto.

Initially, Kokate would neither grant an appointment to HT nor respond to a questionnaire given to his office last Thursday. However, late on Tuesday, he told HT, "Our inquiry is on. If we notice irregularities, we can issue notices to developers to change the purpose of the property to IT. Failing that, we can even seal the properties." He argued that the NMMC wasn't at fault. "We cannot know who the property is being leased out to until the users come in."

Deputy Municipal Commissioner Mahavir Pendhari, who was initially conducting the inquiry, said, "The inquiry has been taken out of my hands and given to the Town Planning Department, so I don't know anything about it."

Town Planning official Kishore Agraharkar also evaded questions. "The case has come to me only last week," he said. "We have to look at the usage... I can't say anything... City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) allots plots and FSI."

Thakur contends that bouncing the inquiry to the Town Planning Department is deliberate since "it is not empowered to seal or demolish buildings".

Meanwhile, the lessor, CIDCO Managing Director N Ramarao - his agency created Navi Mumbai and allotted the plots at a concessional rate of Rs 12,000 per sq ft instead of Rs 18,000 to developers under a state policy framed to encourage the IT industry - told HT, "I am unaware of the specifics but these seem like serious violations. How can NMMC give permissions when they are violating usage clauses?"

Ramarao admitted that as the lessor, his department also needed to be "more alert".

"We will probe and impose mind-boggling penalties for this diversion of use," he said.

That's not good enough for Thakur, who is planning a public interest litigation. "CIDCO's rules do not provide for penalties in such cases, but instead empower officials to take back the land and ensure IT use," reasoned Thakur. "Why isn't it being done?"

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First Published: Dec 19, 2006 21:46 IST