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Affordable housing plan in the DP seems a land grab tactic

  • Smruti Koppikar, HT
  • |  The revised Development Plan 2034 is out. Going by the evaluations made in the first few days by urban planners and hawk-eyed citizens, errors of omission and commission still persist in the revised DP. Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta can expect the concerned mailboxes to be flooded with objections and suggestions over the next few weeks.

The revised DP offers something different in a few areas. It proposes that the limits laid down under Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) II be lifted and areas that fall within 500 metres of the city’s coastline be developed.

It proposes that new business districts be developed on government land across the city with a relatively high built-up area by increasing the Floor Space Index (FSI) here to 5. There are plans to create a central green park of 300 acres in Cuffe Parade, a bad idea if there was one. It envisions a car parking authority So far, so good. There is little here to doubt the BMC’s intent.

This cannot be said about another big idea that the revised DP focuses on – affordable housing. It makes a strong case to build 1 million affordable houses in the next few years or decades, and as is the norm, offers juicy large carrots for private builders to do this. Builders who create affordable houses on 33% of the land under development can avail of higher FSI and build on 34% of it to be sold in the open market. The remaining 33% will have civic or social amenities.

To create this housing stock, nearly 3,100 hectares could be needed, the DP states, and this land parcel will comprise areas which are currently demarcated as No Development Zones (NDZs). These include vast open tracts of salt pans land on the city’s eastern side which, together with natural open spaces such as the Aarey forest and National Park, are the city’s lungs.

There’s more. The revised DP proposes a minor but significant change in the method to compute the FSI of large plots. The norm has been to calculate it on the net area of the plot after deducting 15% for recreation and other amenities. The proposal is to compute the FSI for large plots on the gross area of the plot. In a stroke, it gives builders 15% more buildable area at the very least.

If all these proposals together sound like the DP has a bonanza for the real estate lobby, then it would be a correct assessment. The FSI is sought to be raised in a backdoor manner by changes in computing method.

Under the guise of enabling affordable houses, public land is sought to be converted into private. The miasma of housing shortage, especially in the affordable homes segment, is exploited to enrich the builders’ lobby all over again.

The central government’s Kundu Committee, which studied housing in urban India earlier this decade, told us that 95% of new housing demand is for economically weaker sections and low income groups, in which house sizes range from 270 to 600 square feet. This is most true for Mumbai. Yet, in the last few years, the housing policy and development rules encouraged the creation of large and luxurious apartments, lakhs of which lie unsold according to industry reports.

Private builders are not interested in creating the affordable housing stock, never mind the carrots on offer.

The BMC and state government which are best equipped to build affordable homes have been passing the buck.

The revised DP, under the guise of getting private builders to construct affordable houses, may be facilitating Mumbai’s largest land grab, the implications of which the city will have to bear in the coming decades.

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