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Mumbai Land: Housing Anarchy

Housing Anarchy The Bombay High Court order allowing builders unlimited construction rights in the suburbs and setting January 1, 1995 as the

MUMBAI LAND

Housing Anarchy

T
he Bombay High Court order allowing builders unlimited construction rights in the suburbs and setting January 1, 1995 as the “cut-off” date for regularising slums in Maharashtra touches upon two issues that urban India has been grappling with for a long time: housing and slums.

Builders can now continue or initiate new construction

Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006

projects on 365 lakh square metres in corridors in the western suburbs of the city, using transferable development rights (TDR) with a floor space index (FSI) of 2. The court ruling lifted a three-year-old stay for applying TDR in these corridors and also dismissed the plea by a non-governmental organisation, Janhit Manch, which had filed a public interest litigation pointing out that unregulated application of TDR was strangling the suburbs with unplanned and arbitrary development. The “currency of realty”, as TDR is known, allows construction of plots northward of the original plot or amenity handed over to the government. Of course, the state government’s stand has been that release of TDR in the corridors would mean slum rehabilitation on a major scale due to the incentives handed out to the builders.

The immediate fallout of the court order has been reports that slum TDR rates (under which a developer who re-houses slum dwellers on a particular plot gets a TDR certificate to construct in the suburbs north of the plot with additional construction rights) have zoomed from Rs 1,850 to Rs 2,500. But this is something that realty experts are sure will be a short-lived development. On the face of it, the court’s order is seen as a windfall for builders and not just those whose projects had been stalled due to the earlier stay order on the use of TDR in the corridors. Some of the biggest builders/ developers had huge projects hanging fire in these corridors due to the earlier stay order.

While the assumption is that opening up of so much “frozen” land will mean increased supply of housing in Mumbai, the doubt is about the affordability of the type of housing that will be constructed. The apprehension is that it will only be the high-end of the segment (Rs 5,000 per square feet) that will be available. At any rate, this is something that has too many variable factors affecting it and any certain pronouncements on the economics of real estate in Mumbai would confound even an oracle.

The other and more urgent aspect is the development of infrastructure to keep pace with residential construction. It hardly needs telling that providers of public amenities in Mumbai seem to have given up the struggle to keep pace with the demands made upon them. A related issue is that this city offers work and employment without necessarily offering near-decent housing facilities. So while the increase in supply of housing seems to be good news all around, not all experts see it as something to rejoice over. The former chief planner for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, V K Phatak has criticised the government for using “scarcity as a policy instrument” and cautioned it against loading FSI on to an area without creating the necessary infrastructure. In fact, the high court itself has said that “we have noted the existing infrastructure like parks, playgrounds, open space, water supply, sanitation and sewage disposal, ambient air quality and public transport are inadequate. There is serious congestion on the road and railway tracks.” A frightening list and succinctly put. It has therefore asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to set up a separate corpus from the premium collected from developers and use it to ensure these amenities.

Environmentalists and housing experts have for long advocated the control of the “global FSI” (a term used for the entire locality that contains several plots, roads and open spaces) so that within this global FSI, individual plot FSIs can vary without upsetting the overall balance. They also argue the need for not just local area planning with special attention to the needs of that particular area but also a vision that looks at development as a whole without piecemeal rules, regulations and knee-jerk moves.

Maharashtra’s urban planning takes on significance when we consider that according to the 2001 Census, 42 per cent of its population lives in cities and towns compared to the national average of 27 per cent. The next two decades are estimated to see the biggest urban set-up in the Mumbai-Pune-Nashik belt. A holistic plan is therefore a necessity.

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006

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