KOLKATA: Leading real estate developers in the city have persuaded the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) to use multiple reference points to map waterbodies instead of relying solely on a satellite image taken in 2004.
At a meeting with KMC commissioner Khalil Ahmad and heads of different departments, including building, assessment and project management unit that deals with waterbodies and heritage issues, local builders under the umbrella of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (Credai) convinced the civic officials that KMC needs to do a reality check of plots with waterbodies to resolve disputes that often crop up due to difference in the old satellite image and the current situation on the ground.
“Records of KMC often show much bigger waterbodies than the actual one at the site. This is due to anomaly between satellite-aided waterbody map to actual historical and credible evidence-led mapping such as title deeds, parchas and deed plans,” Credai Bengal president Harsh Patodia explained.
The builders based their argument on multiple grounds. They pointed out that the satellite image may be flawed if taken during monsoon as all low-lying undeveloped plots would have appeared as waterbodies. “One cannot fix the size based solely on a satellite image. While it is evidence, it is not conclusive. We believe other indices like past records and site visit can add to the clarity,” reasoned Credai Bengal vice-president Sushil Mohta.
The records that the builders want to be referred are title deeds, parchas, ROR, assessment records and general revision is done every six years. “When Urban Land Ceiling Act was introduced in 1976, plot owners had to file Form 6 in which they had to give a complete description of the land. These can also be referred to,” said Patodia.
But more than all these, developers want the site to be inspected before ruling on a dispute. They suggest that in case of dispute in quantum of waterbody, PMU authorities should be directed by higher authorities to physically inspect the site, make local inquiries and make a reasonable decision after considering the records to define the actual quantum of water-body in the premises.
Sources in the KMC said the suggestion had been accepted by the civic authorities as they found the argument reasonable. “Our intent is to safeguard waterbodies while facilitating the city’s development. The suggestion from Credai was logical and reasonable. We, therefore, responded positively,” the official said.
Environment action groups, however, want the KMC to exercise caution when faced with such disputes as many waterbodies have been filled up in part or entirety by land sharks since 2004. A study by the Centre for Environment & Development showed that waterbodies in Kolkata were under severe threat.
Bonani Kakkar of PUBLIC, who had waged a legal war to save the East Kolkata Wetlands two decades ago, was extremely wary of the motive of developers. “Scientific spot surveys can ascertain if a wetland has been filled up. Soil tests and vegetation samples can be conclusive but they need to be done by a competent authority like the Institute of Wetland Management,” she said.
Refuting any ulterior motive, Credai officials said present day builders understood the value of waterbodies and even advertised them in projects. “Most of the disputes are over small plots. Large builders use the water to their advantage as makes a development premium,” Mohta explained.