Bangalore: Mumbai’s hopes of building low-cost houses might remain a chimera, as a survey by urban development authorities has found that the land the government acquired for budget homes through a now-defunct land ceiling act already has squatters living on them.
An inspection by officials of Mumbai Metropolitan and Region Development Authority, or MMRDA, and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, or MHADA, has revealed that the government has possession over only 100ha out of the 200ha it had acquired.
“We discovered that 100 hectares of land are still with the respective landowners, which means a lot less land is now available for mass housing projects,” S.R. Jhondale, additional collector of the state’s urban land ceiling department, said over the phone.
Space crunch: A view of the Dharavi settlement in Mumbai. Urban developers say that rehabilitating those living in shanties is a formidable task, given the sheer number of people in slums. (Photo: Madhu Kapparath/Mint)
“Moreover, most of this land is not free for development with more than 90% of it encroached upon by slums and squatters,” he added.
The state government had intended to give these plots of land to MMRDA and MHADA to build low-cost houses and flats.
These agencies, however, may now be reluctant to do so.
“We will have to discuss with the agencies if they are ready to develop these encroached pieces of land for slum improvement,” said T.C. Benjamin, principal secretary at the urban development department, over the phone.
The department has scheduled a meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter, he said. Jhondale said since most of the land was encroached upon, the only way to develop them would be through slum rehabilitation schemes through which squatters would be given free housing on parts of the land and the remaining portion would be developed and sold at market rates. Realty prices in Mumbai are among the highest in the country.
With more than 6 million people living in shanties in Mumbai, rehabilitating slum dwellers is easier said than done, say urban development officials.
The fact that the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, the nodal agency for all slum schemes, has been able to build only 65,000 tenements out of the 4 million houses it had targeted to build between 1995-2000, speaks for itself.
“Removal of encroachments to develop this land will further delay the supply of mass housing in Mumbai,” said housing expert and former MMRDA chief planner V.K. Phatak, by phone.
“Currently, there is hardly any supply of affordable houses besides the few apartments which MHADA builds every year, and this was the only opportunity for property buyers.”
The state government started acquiring the land by invoking the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act of 1976, or Ulcra, just a year before it was repealed in November.
Ulcra was legislated primarily to build low-cost houses through the government acquiring land from individual entities owning more than 500 sq. m of it.
The purpose of Ulcra, say those familiar with the matter, was in any case defeated in Mumbai with the government giving out nearly 1,830 acres (740.5ha) to private developers for commercial projects since 1976.
The state government repealed the Act as a condition for it to avail of funds for projects under the Union government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.