Land is not less

By Sanjay Chaturvedi

Mumbai is having 437.71sq.kms. of land. Total land available or occupied is 68.71 sq. kms. in city, 210.34 sq. kms. in suburbs and 158.66 sq.mrs. for extended suburbs.

With density of population just above 45000 per sq.kms, the mega city has vast area of land to reduce the density. At present more than 12 crore sq.ft. of projects going in full swing in Mumbai and its suburbs.

Plenty of land will be available if Urban land ceiling Act is repealed. Mill lands will cater space and will be required to construct yet another 12 million sq.ft. Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) is becoming laughing stock abroad. When Dubai can have Plam Island in the sea why can’t Mumbai they say.

MHADA, after years of urging and presentation got permission to construct individual dwelling units to its allottees of plot at Gorai. Salt pan land, having no use what so ever, will give immense space of congested slums. We have invited people to occupy land belongs to authorities, No Development Zones and to the collectors. No body, Simply no body is interested in vacating the land for its natural and planed use.

Not that we do not know about todays situation. Way back in 1965, a committee, under the Chairmanship of Prof. N.V. Gadgil was formed. The committee initially identified the Greater Bombay Metropolitan region in 1965, was of the view that Bombay’s population was already of an ‘oppressive size’.

Ever since the passing of the Bombay Improvement Trust Act in 1925 (the Act was superseded by the Bombay Housing Board Act of 1948 and the activities of the Trust were absorbed in the BMC), it has been an axiom of public policy that public sponsorship of land development projects have an important role to play. The approach was legally buttressed by a Supreme Court verdict in the fifties, holding that compulsory land acquisition for the implementation of town planning projects was for a public purpose within the meaning of the Central Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (L.A Act). In Greater Bombay, over 600 hectares of land, mostly in the suburbs, were placed under compulsory acquisition in the sixties for the execution of schemes by the then Housing Board and its successor body.

The 1975 estimates of potentially available vacant land under the ULC Act indicated 8000 hectares in Greater Bombay, rising to as much as 20,000 hectares if marshy land in the NO Development Zone was included. The National Urbanisation Commission has concluded in its interim report in 1986 that, because of the manner in which it has been drafted and implemented, the ULCAR Act has not achieved any of the objectives for which it was enacted. According to an article in the Times of India dated 27th April 1984, a mere 27 landowners, or 3% of the total, on fully 70% of all exploitable vacant land in Greater Bombay, and about 20 builder monopolies over two-thirds of all that actually taken over under the ULC Act and used for housing and other public purposes is negligible. All 45457 statements were scrutinized from all over the state, and the vacant land after scrutiny was 34213 hectares, However, the land acquired and vested with the state government is only 4494 hectares, of which again 877 hectares have been actually taken in possession.

The Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act of 1966, employs the Term Development Plan and indicates a variety of things, but is a mere land-use plan. It also contains the Development Control Rules (DC Rules). Which regulate the Character of buildings and density of population allowed in a specified area.

The City’s godfathers who approved the Draft plan perhaps sincerely believed that the Plan would improve the quality of life but some of the prescriptions of the Plan have had the opposite. The prescribed density ceiling for ordinary housing was 200 tenements per net hectare. The FSI concept was based on the land price level and the population potential as assessed by the planners in pursuit of the decongestion concept. The high prevailing FSI in the Island city was reduced in the late seventies to 1.33, while it was fixed at 1 for the suburbs, and 0.75 and 0.5 for certain areas in the M, N, P (North) and R wards. Now since the situation is changed the plan and provisions must the reviewed.

On a different plane, artificial assumptions about the future population size and the direction of growth have led to exclusion of vast lands for development, and to a jailer to plan adequately for the provisions of infrastructure for the realistic levels of population in different pants of the city.

There is much meaning in the claim that the city’s housing problem is not so much due to physical shortage of land, as unhelpful building regulations and an unresponsive urban government, that constrained the supply of available land in the market and precluded the construction of affordable housing. The Kerkar Committee, appointed by the state government in 1981, pointed out that the state government owns about 8088 acres of open land (about 5886 acres in the western tip of Borivli, 156 acres in the western suburb of Andheri, and 2046 acres in the eastern Kurla), of which 6400 acres are marshy land, and 1272 acres are hilly, and most of the land has been placed in the no-development zone owing to the difficulty of development. About 3000 acres of land belonging to the government and public bodies are reported to be under encroachment, and about 5000 acres of land are in the ownership of private individuals, but can technically be acquired. About 7000 acres of land are lying vacant, mainly in the suburbs, having been placed in the industrial zone, and some of this can be developed for housing the industrial workers. The initial estimate of vacant land under the Urban Ceiling Act was around 20,000 acres, though it must be lesser area now after all the exemptions and scrutiny of returns.

In additional to this, the Central government agencies are in possession of vast areas of land in both the Island city and suburbs. These include: 1) the Bombay Port Trust, with some 2000 acres or a third of the Central Bombay area; 2) the Defence Department with over 1000 acres of prime land in South Bombay, and smaller areas in the suburbs, all held apparently for security reasons; 3) the Western and the Central Railways, holding land in the suburbs, usually near the railway tracks; 4) the Internal Airport Authority holding a lot of land in its jurisdiction in Western suburbs; and 5) the Salt Department with over 200 hectares of land under slat pans, much of which can be converted to residential purpose. Their development would, of course call for the recasting of the development plan and for planning the extension of infrastructure of water supply, sewerage, electricity, roads, and social facilities to additional vacant lands in the suburbs.

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