Mumbai chawls set to become real estate gold mine. The builder lobby is ecstatic

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By Lalatendu Mishra

MUMBAI’S BIGGEST real estate redevelopment project is set to take off — as soon as the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests agrees to relax the Environment (Protection) Act with regard to the reconstruction of old buildings in a coastal regulation zone (CRZ).

This is something that owners and tenants of over 5,000 ageing structures, including hundreds of Mumbai’s iconic if dilapidated chawls (whose number is gradually dwindling), have been waiting for. So has the state government, which has for long been pleading with the ministry, but with limited success. But by far the biggest beneficiary of this move is the builders’ lobby.

Developers can potentially earn several crores as profit since such projects in landlocked Mumbai are guaranteed moneyspinners. At present, 38 percent of Mumbai or 166.32 km of the total 437.71 km shoreline comes under the CRZ.

Moreover, these neighbourhoods are densely populated. Apart from the residential buildings from Colaba in South Mumbai to Mahim and then Gorai in Borivali, this area has over 50 slum clusters and fishermen colonies, which would be redeveloped into high-rises. More public space is also expected to be created.

Existing CRZ rules do not allow any construction within 500 metres of the high tide line. However, large parts of Mumbai fall under the CRZ II category, where construction has taken place in eco-sensitive zones prior to the enactment of the environment Act.

According to state government officials, the Union ministry earlier this month gave its ‘in-principle’ approval to the state’s proposal to redevelop this vast stretch of land, with the condition that it must benefit end-users and the masses. The final notification is yet to come.

“During our meeting, Union Minister (of State for Environment and Forests) Jairam Ramesh said that he would clear the proposal only if the state undertakes the redevelopment. He finally agreed after we suggested that MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority) would be the nodal agency for this redevelopment,” says state Housing Minister Sachin Ahir. “This move is in the best interests of Mumbai and its citizens.”

ACCORDING TO him, the state government is conducting a survey of the area to present a comprehensive proposal for approval. Officials said that the whole area, with additional floor space index (FSI) of 2.5 to 4, could be redeveloped through three-way agreements between landowners/tenants, MHADA and real estate developers.

FSI is the ratio of total constructed area of a structure via-a-vis the plot of land on which it is located.

The government’s objective is to create more housing stock in Mumbai to tame rising realty prices. MHADA expects to get 1 lakh flats free of cost from this project, which could be sold at government- prescribed rates to citizens.

“We are open to undertaking the redevelopment of old buildings in CRZ areas. The in-principle clearance is a very good move,” says Adi Godrej, chairman, Godrej Properties, which is currently in negotiations to undertake several redevelopment projects in the non-CRZ area of Mumbai. “CRZ rules are good for protecting mangroves and other eco-sensitive zones but for redeveloping old buildings in Mumbai, these needed to be relaxed,” he said.

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