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New CRZ Rules Make Waves
By Gajanan Khergamker

Relaxation of rigid norms to boost housing among Kolis,  prospects of redevelopment of slums along the city’s coastline are welcome amidst, says Gajanan Khergamker who hopes we don’t pay a heavy price in the bargain

If there’s one thing that’s synonymous with Mumbai apart from its legendary railways, it’s the sea. The city’s coastline has been the cynosure of all eyes since time immemorial. The amount written and spoken about the Queen’s Necklace is legendary. Now, all of that may well change with the Coastal Regulation Zone 2011.

Also, with regard to the redevelopment of projects stalled owing to the CRZ caveats, the new CRZ notification provides for a mandatory state government’s involvement of 51 per cent in the proceedings. Around 45 per cent about 206 sq kms of land is under CRZ and the notification throws open about 146 slum pockets and 600 dilapidated buildings in South and Central Mumbai for redevelopment.

Ideally, the state’s involvement is about 51 per cent stake in all slum projects and partner developments. However, practically, it doesn’t seem quite possible as the state may well not have the funds to invest in the projects. There is presently no scheme under which the government puts in so much investment.

According to the new CRZ notifications, the projects require a three-way agreement between a government agency such as Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), private developers and residents of the land.

Issues about sharing responsibilities such as execution and investment and the burden of onus are yet unclear. The idea was to ensure that private developers don’t take undue advantage of the rules relaxation and the state picks up a 50 per cent stake in all the slum projects and partner developments in redevelopment of dilapidated buildings. This is theoretically aimed to ensure a steady supply of low-cost houses in the next few years. Now, how much of it actually happens remains to be seen.

According to state government officials, very soon would be constituted a separate body or Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority would be empowered to pick up a 51 per cent interest in any redevelopment by private developers or land owners, as necessitated by the new notification.

This is to safeguard the interests of the residents and to bring the whole process under the ambit of public and government scrutiny and prevent builders from cornering all benefits. Kolis who comprise the ethnic local population of Mumbai and have been twiddling their thumbs over housing needs which remained in doldrums owing to the strict CRZ norms, have been relieved.

However, in certain pockets of the city, particularly in South Mumbai - owing to their proximity to defence lands, redevelopment, despite the state’s clearance and the availability of a keen developer, looks like a remote prospect.

The Navy may well continue to put up stern resistance to any effort on the part of most slum-dwellers in and around Colaba to develop or re-develop their lands citing security reasons. The new CRZ provides for ways to stem the rot of curruption and keep crafty builders under check. Now, private companies undertaking any redevelopment of Koliwadas within 100 m of the coastline will come under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI).

Dumping CRZ Could Risk Mumbai's Very Existence 
By Gajanan Khergamker

Today, if a tsunami-like storm were to hit Mumbai, a lot of its fury would be buffered by organic bulwarks - the mangroves and salt-pans - that protect the city. A few years down the line, the mangroves and salt-pans will be gone leaving behind a mass of concrete ready to crumble at the slightest natural provocation. There will be regular repeats of the cloud-burst in 2005 that catapulted the city’s dismal infrastructure before a global arena.

Where the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) issue was concerned, it was initially perceived as nature versus development. But then, that’s a matter of the past. Faced with a virtual roadblock laid down by a strong environmentalist lobby, the ploy was altered. After having camouflaged it as a hindrance to slum resettlement plans and deriving immense political mileage out of the same, the move came through. After all, the city offers only 0.03 acres for every 1,000 people.

Bolstered by its claim to resettle slum-dwellers and tackle an acute housing issue that Mumbai reels under, the Union environment ministry plans to recast the Coastal Regulatory Zone guidelines that govern construction along the coast.

An imminent draft notification modifying the blanket ban on construction within 500 metres of the high tide line is braced to change things drastically for the much-relieved developer lobby which is all poised to change Mumbai’s skyline.

To be replaced by a “district-wise approach,” a “hazard line” will be drawn separately for each coastal district to define where construction can begin. Determined by scientific techniques, parameters like the pattern of storm surges, sea erosion, topography and maximum anticipated sea level rise over a 100-year period will play a vital role in the etching of this line.

Expected to fetch much-needed relief to the land-locked situation that Mumbai has been facing for years on end, it’s the builders lobbying to scrap the CRZ regime who benefit the most. The move is expected to free large tracts of land along the sea for construction activities that will advertently speed up Mumbai’s slum rehabilitation plans.

Incidentally, the move to recast the guidelines follows recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Committee set up in 2004. The committee said the existing guidelines had “no scientific basis and were obstructing legitimate commercial activity in coastal areas.”

Among other zones, Mumbai’s 5,500-acre salt pan sprawl is in danger of being buried under a cement-and-steel onslaught. Although officially, the salt pans are to be utilised “only to re-house slum dwellers displaced by crucial infrastructure projects in the city,” how much of it actually percolates down to the poor is anyone’s guess!

Talk of plans to increase floor space index (FSI) to 2.5 for the salt pans which, ironically, fall under the stringent CRZ prohibiting any construction close to creeks, mangroves and the high tide line, have caused ripples among environmentalists who fear the worst following a realty boom in the environmentally-fragile zones.

However, Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust, said, “The new draft notification has been tailored to ensure that all salt pan lands are given to builders by completely changing the existing CRZ norms. The new notification will also effectively legalise all violations of the present CRZ notification.”

As opposed to the blanket 500 metre rule, the new rule only talks about the ‘setback’ line based on the “vulnerability of the coast to natural and manmade hazards.” “On the landward side of the setback line, in respect of new and existing physical and social infrastructure, and habitations, there would be no additional restrictions under this notification on construction, modernisation, or expansion, beyond those under the laws and regulations of the local authority,” read the proposed notification.

This may have some very striking connotations. For example, if the authorities feel that Marine Drive Sea wall provides enough protection, there will be no restriction on construction on the land behind it. It sounds like a dream come true for most developers whose hands have been tied owing to CRZ notifications.

Incidentally, Mumbai’s salt-pans are surrounded by mangroves and fall under CRZ 1, categorised as the most ecologically sensitive and important zone on par with national parks, marine parks, sanctuaries, places close to breeding and spawning grounds of fish and areas rich in genetic diversity. The city’s salt pans are located at Ghatkopar, Chembur, Wadala, Kanjurmarg, Bhandup, Mandale, Turbhe, Anik, Nahur, Mulund in the eastern suburbs and Dahisar, Mira-Bhayander, Malvani and Virar in the western belt.

Salt pans and mangroves serve as organic bulwarks are natural holding ponds for rainwater and serve as vital dissipation spaces permitting accumulated waters to drain into the sea. Apparently, if all the salt pan lands are opened for development, the area that is thrown open will be slightly more than nine times the mill land in central Mumbai. With stakes so high, the CRZ relaxation was inevitable.

Developers, on their part, feel that mangroves up to 150 metres from the creek should be left untouched. “But anything beyond that can be removed and replanted,’’ says one on grounds of anonymity. However, geologists are of the view that salt pan lands are unsuitable for reclamation. The continuous production of salt could have weakened the soil and to be able to reach a solid foundation for projects, they will need to dig very deep.

The Mandwa-Alibag stretch is among those targeted for urbanisation with plans of a new airport also on the anvil. The government however maintains that the area is not ‘green’ in the sense of a forest cover, and so there is no harm in urbanisation. However, the project has met stiff resistance from local farmers.

Incidentally, the process of drawing the hazard line is expected to start in mid-2007 once the environment ministry combs through the objections and suggestions in response to the draft notification. Expected to be complete in five years, the ministry has mooted the idea of piecemeal scrapping of the CRZ regime. So, as each district gets its hazard line, the CRZ regime there will be lifted.

For starters, the ministry has identified two districts each on the east and west coasts which will serve as sample areas to fine-tune the methodology to draw the hazard line.

Where Mumbai is concerned, the scrapping of the CRZ regime depends on how fast the authorities draw up the hazard line. Meanwhile, in the city, the potential for realty development has sent prices spiralling: A salt plot that costs Rs 2 crore a year back cost as high as Rs 70 crore today.

One of the options on the table is to “involve the interest of only three stakeholders—Government of India, government of Maharashtra and developer’’. “It is proposed to share built-up area equally by each stakeholder, which is 33.3 per cent each,’’ said the document. The lessee of the salt pan land doesn’t hold any stake as he’s offered monetary compensation instead.

There is a second option too which involves the lessee: “The development of salt-pan land with the investment of developer will involve interest of four stakeholders (Centre, state, lessee and developer). Therefore, the proposed built-up area will also get shared according to the nature of interest involved in the land,’’ it says.

Going by the official version, the developer will have to provide both on-site and off-site infrastructure. “Therefore, incentive FSI shall be 100 per cent as in the case of slum redevelopment schemes in the suburbs. The developer will be allowed to use 15 per cent of the total area for commercial. In this scheme, the developer will get 50 per cent of total built up area in the project as a sale component from which he gets compensated for the cost of construction. The balance 50 per cent is to be shared between the Centre, state government and lessee,’’ it said.

The document also said: “The development scheme on salt pans can be initiated by inviting open tenders from developers. The bid will have to be based on the percentage of built-up area the developer will offer (minimum 50 per cent),’’ it said.

Any stringent, hard-nosed attitude such as blanket bans along coastal zones can only be harmful to a nation that possesses an enviable coastline of more than 7,600 km and a viable treasure of realty and tourism potential too to boot. Similarly, any arbitrary lifting of legislature that protects the same from unscrupulous and lop-sided development needs to be guarded against.

In a democracy, whose people’s lives depend heavily on the sea and its by-products, it works best to take the interests of the locals into consideration before passing legislations. That probably the only way, changes fetched about will last as intended. Otherwise, they’re quite prone to violent contradictions; drastic alterations and/or subsequent withdrawals.