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Skyline's about to change

Central okay for makeover of chawls, old buildings close to seafront will change the lives of residents and create 1 lakh low-cost houses. But environmentalists warn about the impact on our shores. Naresh Kamath & Snehal Rebello report.

mumbai Updated: Aug 14, 2010 02:01 IST

Advocate Dinkar Jani (69) shudders every year when the monsoon arrives. His 250 sq ft home in Old Wadia Chawl at Charni Road is in shambles. Though Jani wants this 100-year-old structure to be redeveloped, the law won't allow it because it falls within the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), ie, within 500 metres of the coastline.

"Every time we approach a builder, he dismisses us, saying it falls under the CRZ. Our chawl is sinking," rued Jani. "We don't have a problem with the law; but it can't be at the cost of our lives."

With 80 rooms, the chawl has been repaired thrice, but little has changed. Even though it gives the chawl an occasional touch-up, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has certified that it is beyond repair. "We fear for our lives; we don't know when the building will fall like a pack of cards," said Jani.

Now, however, Jani's dream of moving into a new house could come true.

In July, Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh gave an in-principle nod to the state's proposal for redevelopment of old buildings and slum pockets in CRZ areas. These projects would be public-private partnerships, with MHADA holding a 51 per cent stake.

The special concession, currently being worked on by the Centre, will change the city's skyline and create about one lakh low-cost houses.

"In a city with such a huge housing crunch, it is good that old buildings and slums make way for more housing. How long can we let their residents live the way they have been for all these years?" said V. Phatak, urban planner. "Besides, low-cost housing is not just the need of the poor, who account for only 20 per cent of the population, anymore. It is a problem of the majority since you can't even get a house for Rs 25 lakh."

The concession will cover 38 per cent of the city — that's 166.32 sq km of the total 437.71 sq km — which falls under the CRZ.

It includes Colaba, Girgaum, Mahim and stretches up to Gorai in Borivli. Comprising seven major slums pockets, such as Geeta Nagar and Sunder Nagar in Colaba, it will also affect 15 gaothans in Girgaum and Juhu, 20 koliwadas in Mahim, Versova and Worli, 10 large MHADA colonies at Worli and Gorai, 5,000 old and dilapidated buildings and 135 shanty clusters.

Mayank Gandhi, secretary, Remaking of Mumbai Federation, said: "There is no alternative to redevelopment," he said. "Authorities can clear proposals on a case by case basis and give permission where absolutely needed."

Environmentalists, however, are unhappy with the impending change on the seafront. "There are studies on sea levels rising because of climate change. Instead of giving more space to waterfronts, the state wants to increase coastal densities by constructing high-rises," said Debi Geonka, of the Bombay Environment Action Group.

Though happy that they can now expand their homes, the fishing community is wary of land sharks taking over their shores.

"We will develop our own land by appointing an architect. The state can approve the plan," said R.K. Patil, chairperson, Maharashtra Machimar Kruti Samiti. "Existing rules to protect our coastline are either bent or weakened to benefit builders and the industrial lobby at the expense of fishing communities and the environment."

First Published: Aug 14, 2010 01:57 IST