Grandeur Under Hammer
Foundation of DF government is shaken once again with 21 super plush illegal structures in Mumbai’s satellite township Navi Mumbai coming under Municipal scanner.
Twenty-one grand skyscrapers lining the up-market Palm Beach Road in Navi Mumbai, which was diligently planned in the early 1990s to rival colonial Mumbai on the latter’s northern flank, may soon be facing the municipality bull dozer. For these posh colonies, where a humble dwelling costs a fortune, were actually built on foundations of deceit and manifest the deep rooted malice that has permeated every aspect of civic life in the sprawling township. The unholy nexus of netas and babu-dom which provided the required camouflage for the decade-old wrong doings, seems to have partly blown off by a fresh gust of empowerment, courtesy RTI. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s rhetoric on the floor of the house announcing the government’s resolve to sledge hammer these temples of corruption, was no surprise.
If the Congress led UPA government’s tryst with scams appears to have no ending, the fortunes of the Congress led Democratic Front (DF) government in Maharashtra is no different.The Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society scam, where a multi-storey tower was allowed to be constructed on Army land, having a multitude of violations including CRZ laws has already seen the resignation of one chief minister, and three former Congress CMs lining up before the CBI for grueling grilling sessions. Then there are a bunch of scams pertaining to the contentious Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) projects in Mumbai and other big cities in the state et al. The latest in the series of scams to hit the state government is the slew of violations in almost all the major building projects coming up at one of the hottest new residential areas in the satellite township of Navi Mumbai, the super plush Palm Beach Road.
On August 2, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was forced to admit in the assembly that 21 of the 23 multistorey towers coming up on Palm Beach Road were under the scanner for having violated construction norms. He has also admitted that several of the buildings had violated FSI rules and constructed illegal floors. But, he clarified that notices had already been served in March to several of these buildings for demolition of the illegal extra floors. But the matter does not end here, rather it could open the proverbial can of worms of a bevy of damning violations in the upcoming township.
According to civic rights activists voicing concerns in Navi Mumbai, most of the constructions in the up coming city are marked by some regularity or the other. The latest being this particular stretch of Palm Beach road which has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. They allege that right from the onset, when this area was being developed, there has been large scale irregularities. “Firstly, the ownership in some stretches of land given for construction of the buildings is disputed. High tension wires pass over this area. So it is not clear if the land is owned by CIDCO of MSEB or TATA. Yet CIDCO went ahead and sold the land to builders at high rates and allowed for construction of high rises,” says Killedar Sukumar, an RTI activist and President of the Save Mangroves and Navi Mumbai Existence (SAMNE). Initially, the plots were sold at 1 Floor Space Index (FSI). But subsequently the NMMC allowed for 1.5 FSI. “Had the corporation done this right at the beginning, then the corporation could have sold the land at a higher price. But they chose to do it in a piece meal manner. This means that people in authority were in cahoots with this lobby,” says Sukumar.
NAVI MUMBAI FACTS FILE
Constructed as a satellite township of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai is one of the largest planned city in the world. At present, population of Navi Mumbai is 0.75 million and is estimated to grow to 2 million by the turn of the decade. What started as a parallel township to ease the congestion of South Mumbai’s business/corporate traffic, Navi Mumbai is now developing into an independent, self-contained metro city. With a large number of corporates having moved to this city, it is fast developing into a business hub. It’s connected with Mumbai via the Vashi and Airoli bridges. Besides it is well connected by the local train services on the Harbour line.
The township was originally a colony of 100 fishing villages and hamlets (gaonthans), where farming, fishing, salt pans provided the main source of income. The Agri and Kolis are the two dominant Maharashtrian communities lived here before the influx began in the early 1990s.
After the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) gave its nod for the construction of the proposed international airport, last year, property prices in the area shoot up phenomenally. Land sharks and politicians quickly seized the opportunity and went on a grabbing spree, with little respect to the law pertaining to land.
The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation has an area of 162 Sq.km under its supervision. The population of the city as per the census 1991 was 3,97,000 which has increased to 7,50,000 as indicated in the census figures in 2001. (A rise of 88.91%). It has 89 electoral wards. City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) is a State Public Sector Undertaking registered under Companies Act in March 1970. CIDCO prepared developmental plan for Navi Mumbai covering 95 villages from Thane and Raigad district covering total area of 343.70 sq km (table below). This was approved by the Government of Maharashtra in August 1979.
Allegations of illegalities have always tagged these constructions. But then that was the beginning. Once the FSI was cleared, builders constructed illegal structures under the garb minor modifications. “In fact some of the buildings have added up to three floors which are illegal,” says Killedar. Though the government conceded that some may have one floor added, builders association, the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing and Industry (MCHI) says that ‘only one building has extra floors.’
Builders who have invested fortunes in the upcoming projects reject these charges and are not ready to take it quietly. “There are no major violations,” said a builder whose building has been “listed” by NMMC. “Just minor extensions exist in certain residences,” he says. Some of the builders have already approached the NMMC for legalising the buildings.
Meanwhile builders are also ready to face any penalty that the government could impose. “The violations are meager. In most cases the irregularities are introduced by the flat owner. They may extend the flat or build on flower beds. That is not the fault of the builder,” says Manohar Shroff, Navi Mumbai secretary of Maharashtra Chamber of Housing and Industry (MCHI). “We are ready to face the inquiry. The government can impose a penalty in lieu of the illegal constructions, if any, at all. And ask the builders to rectify. In any case, there is really not much for the investigations,” he says.
But this is not the only time that NMMC has been under scrutiny for illegal constructions. Earlier, one Dinesh Jain, secretary, Nerul Nagar Merchants Welfare Association filed an RTI with NMMC to find out what action NMMC has taken on illegal alteration and construction carried on at residential and commercial properties since 2000 in NMMC jurisdiction area. According to NMMC, it has sent total 3,980 notices to residential premises that are being illegally used for commercial activities. The maximum number of such illegal use of residential properties is found in Koparkhairane, where NMMC has identified 892 illegalities (in properties) and served notices to such properties.
But the issue doesnot seem to be calming down with the assurances of the CM. Locals say that
they will pursue the story. “We shall wait and see what the CM decides. Incase the building lobby manages to put pressure on the CM, and get the buildings regularised, we shall approach the courts and also launch agitations,” says Killedar Sukumar Civic right activists working in the area allege that the present slew of investigations are long over due.
By Ujjayini Das from Mumbai