Merely eight per cent of the 16,000-odd cessed buildings in Mumbai have been redeveloped since 1999, when the state government decided to offer incentives to private developers in return for rehabilitating tenants of such properties free of cost.
The Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU), which has arrived at these figures as part of its year-long cessed buildings mapping exercise, has in its final report suggested that the government should axe the politically populist policy of free housing for tenants of cessed buildings. These are pre-1969 tenanted properties in the island city that pay a minimal repair cess to MHADA. The findings show that the policy has not benefited the four lakh families living in these buildings.
“If anything, developers have used every loophole in the law to maximise their profits. A majority of the redevelopment has been taken up on small plots less than 500 sq m with fewer tenants and only in lucrative areas. In many cases, even structurally sound buildings have been pulled down after forcibly evicting the tenants while the really dilapidated ones are left untouched,” said Sulakshana Mahajan, urban planner with MTSU, the state government advisory body.
Under Development Control Rules 33/7 (for single cessed structures) and 33/9 (for clusters of cessed buildings), the state government offers private developers an FSI of three and above depending on the number of tenants. The report shows that the policy has resulted in pencil thin buildings being constructed in dense locations with developers allegedly inflating the number of tenancies to avail of the extra FSI.
The report also looks at a few case studies of redevelopment projects to show the futility of the schemes so far. For instance, at Khetwadi it was found that the 473 tenants’ families were crammed together on half of a 4,000 sq m plot. The other half was used to construct a highrise for housing 35-odd families as part of the developer’s sale component. This kind of segregation was repeated in several other instances where all amenities such as open spaces, wide access and roads were found to be disproportionately allocated to the sale building while the distance between the rehabilitation buildings was less than five feet — not even wide enough for fire engines to enter.
Officials said all considerations of social justice have been subverted in the free housing concept so far. Once free housing is abolished, tenants will have to pay for the cost of construction and infrastructure. The report recommends that soft loans should be made available to the tenants for this purpose. However, in a suggestion that is bound to raise hackles in several quarters, the report also suggests curtailing the individual bargaining power of tenants to avoid redevelopment projects getting stuck in a gridlock. Instead, the decision to appoint developers should be taken either by MHADA or the owners of such properties, the report states.
The MTSU, which has carried out the study for MHADA, will soon be presenting its report titled Urban Renewal with Cluster Approach to the Chief Minister. The final outcome of the study would be earmarking the already identified clusters in BMC’s Development Plan (2014-34) along with the planned amenities and infrastructure. The existing rule of allowing plots of over one acre to go for cluster redevelopment could be revised to increase the cluster area to a minimum of 25 acres. “This way developers can’t come forward with proposals of reconstructing cessed building according to their choice in a piecemeal manner. They will have to take up a larger area as per the earmarked clusters and amenities,” said an MTSU official.