MUMBAI: The Maharashtra urban development department has taken the first step to throw open no-development zones in Mumbai, allowing 10-20 times the construction currently permitted.
The move has raised suspicions that it could be tailor-made for a clutch of builders. Several control large swathes of NDZs in Oshiwara, Malad and Powai, but are unable to utilize their development potential because of restrictions. Building activity has always been severely restricted on NDZs because of environmental concerns.
The UDD, through a notification, has proposed an FSI of four for developers wishing to construct exhibition-cum-convention centres and support services like hotels, food courts and convenience stores on plots of a minimum area of 25 acres. FSI is 0.2-0.4 at present on NDZs, mainly for ancillary services like golf clubs, amusement parks and IT parks.
The UDD notification was issued by the previous government a couple of weeks before the poll code of conduct came into force in September. But it was published a few days ago, leading many to believe that clearance has also been given by the new government. The UDD portfolio is with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
As per the notification, exhibition-cum-convention centres can be permitted on plots marked for residential and industrial purposes. It has invited the public to offer objections and suggestions before the government modifies the development control rules.
"At present, there is no world-class convention-cum-exhibition centre in Mumbai. The government permitted additional FSI for such a centre in the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport notified area, but there is no provision for granting additional FSI and other concessions elsewhere in Mumbai," says the notification, adding that the "government is satisfied" that the move is in "public interest". Currently, the Reliance Group is building a convention-cum-exhibition centre at the Bandra-Kurla Complex.
According to an estimate, around 40% of Greater Mumbai's 457 sq km land area is believed to comprise NDZs, which includes salt pan lands, Aarey Milk colony and areas around creeks and mangroves. In 2005, the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh publicly commented that reservations pertaining to NDZs are not sacrosanct. "No-development zone does not mean it is a never-development zone," he had said. Over the last decade, the government used its authority to convert large tracts of NDZ land into residential zones. One of the first to be "de-reserved" was a 20-acre lush green NDZ plot near Fantasy Land in Andheri (East); it was converted to residential zone plot.
Environmentalists say planning decisions need to be taken very carefully since decisions concerning the environment and public health have to be taken into account, especially in a city that has the lowest ratio of open spaces per 1,000 people. NDZs are vacant lands and thus are necessary for absorbing rainwater and re-circulating air.