Waiting For A Disaster?
Hope for redevelopment of the aging and degrading housing stock in coastal areas, provided by the new Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, has been belied in the 15 months after it was published.
The purpose of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification when it was issued in 1991 was to protect the environment along the coast by restricting what could be done in these areas. CRZ was divided into various categories according to the degree of vulnerability of the environment, and in some areas, no construction was to be allowed. In CRZ II—already built-up areas along the coast—the Floor Space Index (the ratio between the total area of a plot and the built-up floor-space on it) was frozen at what it was at the time the Notification was passed. In Bombay (as it was then), this was 1.33 for the Island City and 1 for the suburbs.

To the extent that the regulation has been implemented, it has indeed protected the environment. However in Mumbai, where a large part of the city falls into the coastal zone, a problem has arisen in the case of old, dilapidated and unsafe buildings. In other parts of the city, residents who cannot afford the costs of redeveloping their old buildings can attract builders to undertake the task by offering them extra FSI, which the builders can sell and make a profit. In CRZ areas, this is not possible. As buildings age, the possibility of mishaps and even collapse increases, and residents are put at risk.

The new CRZ Notification of 6 January 2011 that was issued by the ministry of environment and forests when Jairam Ramesh was minister seeks to provide a remedy to this problem. It states clearly that in Greater Mumbai there are ‘a large number of old and dilapidated, cessed and unsafe buildings in the CRZ areas, and due to their age these structures are extremely vulnerable and disaster prone. There is therefore an urgent need for the redevelopment or reconstruction of these identified buildings…The Floor Space Index (FSI) or Floor Area Ratio for such redevelopment schemes shall be in accordance with the Town and Country Planning Regulations prevailing as on the date on which the project is granted approval by the competent authority.’ (pp. 23–24) In other words, the new CRZ guidelines assume that the Maharashtra state government and the BMC will soon be allotting a higher FSI to buildings in these categories in order to encourage their redevelopment, with the express aim of minimizing danger to the lives and homes of residents.

Mr Ramesh’s notification was published 15 months ago, yet to date there has been not a single announcement by either the state government or the Commissioner of any revised Planning Regulations that would allow older and less safe buildings in CRZ areas to be redeveloped with a sense of urgency. When an old (1968) building near Haji Ali by the name of Vellard View recently suffered extensive structural damage and partial collapse due to a landslide, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and the BMC reportedly refused to grant any extra FSI to the residents for redevelopment of their building. The residents were forced into accepting a substantial cut in their carpet areas to be able to finance reconstruction through a builder.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner Subodh Kumar has been lobbying for a 36-km coastal road that will run from Nariman Point to Kandivli, that is slated to cost Rs 8000 crores and has even been described as the Chief Minister’s ‘dream project’. The Maharashtra government’s priorities are truly shocking! Redevelopment in already built-up areas has no negative impact on the environment, whereas a coastal road would tear up the last of Mumbai’s beaches, massively interfere with tidal movements, destroy mangroves and fishing communities, and generate vastly more pollution than the city already suffers from. But apparently cars matter more than people!

Since the new CRZ regulations were issued at the start of last year, there have two significant policy changes involving the allocation and definition of FSI. The first was the state government’s decision to allow the suburbs to enjoy an additional floor space index of 0.33 to iron out a long-standing disparity between them and the Island City. The second has been a new and tighter definition of what counts as FSI, that now includes a whole series of structural elements that were previously treated as exempt. Because the new definition has a substantial impact on their margins, builders are now allowed a “compensatory” FSI of 35% (or 0.35), for which they have to pay a premium except where redevelopment projects are involved.

Since both policy moves are about what counts as “basic” FSI, logically they should be applicable to those categories of CRZ buildings for which Jairam Ramesh’s regulation has made special provision, since the FSI norms have now been upgraded. Yet the plain fact is that there is so little transparency or public understanding of what the state authorities’ policy is for these buildings that builders are currently taking the stand that neither of these changes applies to any set of buildings in CRZ II. In short, all buildings in the suburban CRZ areas remain stuck at an FSI of 1, regardless of the precarious state of many of these structures.

As the housing stock in the coastal areas ages and degrades, repairs are no longer feasible beyond a certain point, which is why Mr Ramesh’s CRZ notification of 2011 sought to encourage redevelopment in those areas as a key priority. Obviously no one seems to be listening at this end. Or are they waiting for a disaster to happen before they move?

Rohini Hensman is a novelist and writer. She lives in one of the old buildings that the current regulations are dooming to stagnation