The State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) has either rejected or put on hold all rental housing proposals placed before it for the mandatory green nod, citing the massive density arising out of the very nature of such mass housing projects.
The panel has, in fact, not approved a single rental housing proposal since its first meeting in September 2011. According to town planning norms, the ideal density is 400 tenements per hectare. This means that a maximum of 400 families can live over an area of one hectare without bearing down on the infrastructure such as open spaces, roads or amenities such as transport, water supply and sewerage. Most projects before the SEAC exceed the ideal tenement density by as much as five to 15 times.
In its last meeting, the panel denied environment clearance to two projects near Panvel — the 16-acre Arihant Akanksha and 28-acre Indiabulls Greens — for having a density of up to 2,000 houses per hectare. Also pending before the panel are similar high-density projects by Darvesh Properties in Mahajanwadi (Thane), Pranshu Developers in Nilje village (Kalyan), Dhariwal builders at Kolke village (Panvel), a project each by Square Feet Builders and Dosti Friends Development Corporation at Manpada (Thane), among several others.
The rental housing policy of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) allows a total FSI (ratio of built-up area to plot area) of four. Of this, builders have to hand over construction equal to an FSI of one to the MMRDA and instead they get to utilise the remaining FSI of three for their sale component. However, many of these projects have tweaked norms to consume a total FSI of as high as six to eight.
A SEAC member, who didn’t wish to be named, said the ambitious rental housing scheme will end up denting the infrastructure and environment. “The size of the houses is inversely proportionate to the density, as smaller the apartments in a building the more families it can accommodate. The rental housing buildings with houses as tiny as 160 sq ft and the builder’s sale component with its high FSI are together bound to put a great strain on services,” said the member. He added that while the earlier SEAC cleared 12 rental housing proposals before September 2011, the present panel hasn’t approved any.
“We have no option but to ask the MMRDA to reduce the density to less than 1,000 houses per hectare by increasing the size of the rental units. This may decrease the number of units available for mass housing, but this is the only environmentally sustainable option before us,” he said. MMRDA sources said a policy on increasing the size of the rental units is awaiting the Chief Minister’s approval.
Of two proposals that have been rejected, the Arihant project is in Palaspe village near Panvel and will have 6,500 apartments in over 24 highrises. The recreation ground, partly on a podium, would be merely about eight per cent of the plot area. In case of the Indiabulls projects, there would be 30 towers with almost 10,000 apartments in Kon and Arivali village near Panvel.
As in the case of most rental housing projects proposed in the peripheral areas of the MMR, the panel has noted that: “Such high density will cause serious health hazards due to lack of adequate open spaces, lighting and ventilation and living conditions. Even in slum development schemes, the tenement density seldom exceeds around 1,200 tenements per hectare. In rural areas and areas not yet developed, it will have to be substantially less.”
The SEAC has also raised serious concerns about the burden on the feeble rural infrastructure where municipal services as well as amenities like hospitals, schools, market, fire station and police station are not developed yet.