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Residents, landlords to have a stake in Mumbai chawls makeover project

Residents, landlords to have a stake in Mumbai chawls makeover project

Mumbai: Whenever Bindu Oza has overnight guests, she moves out all the furniture she can into the corridor outside her house to accommodate everybody inside the 200sq. ft room. “We move everything out so everyone can sleep comfortably," says the 42-year-old, who lives in a century-old chawl with her family of five.

Her friend Shilpa Ganpatye is luckier. She has access to an extra room. “My aunt left me the keys to her room when she moved out of here. We get to use that room too," says Shilpa, who lives in a 100sq. ft room with her family of four.

But if a guest wants to use the bathroom, Shilpa’s entire household moves out, as one has to make do with the washing up area within the room.

Both Bindu and Shilpa, long-time residents of Chira Bazar, the original home of the Maharashtrian middle class and one of the state capital’s oldest and most congested areas in the heart of south Mumbai, live in hope that one day their chawls will be redeveloped.

If builder Lalit Gandhi of Lok Housing and Constructions Ltd succeeds in his ambitious plan of redeveloping the entire 221-acre spread of C3 and C4 wards, better known as the Chira Bazaar and Kalbadevi areas, the two women could see their lifelong dream come true. Gandhi plans to rebuild the entire area over 7-10 years and estimates that the project can cost as much as Rs60,000 crore.

Gandhi’s Lok Housing is a mid-sized real estate company, listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange. The company competes with other suburban builders in the city such asK Raheja Constructions and Hiranandani Devleopers Pvt. Ltd. It has projects under construction in Mumbai suburbs such as Andheri and Mulund, besides Virar and Kalyan in neighbouring Thane.

Six months ago, Gandhi floated the Remaking of Mumbai Federation (RoMF), a loose body of tenants’ associations, builders, architects and prominent citizens, to push his idea. In November, RoMF made a presentation to the state government in response to an expression of interest invited by it for a pilot project to redevelop the older parts of the city.

Gandhi has suggested redeveloping the 221-acre sprawl of C3 and C4 ward areas into separate residential and commercial zones and releasing 70% of it for open spaces, schools and hospitals. He has suggested that the tenants, landlords and businessmen in the area should all become partners in a commercial venture being floated by the federation, Remaking of Mumbai Housing Corp. Ltd.

“This is the commercial arm of the federation and will implement the project. We plan to give tenants, landlords and businessmen in the area equity in the venture," he says. The plan also includes issuing two sets of debentures that can be converted to equity in the company later and redeemed against the new houses.

Gandhi claims that the government will earn around Rs700-800 crore in the form of stamp duty and other taxes from the sale of additional homes and business premises that will be built as part of the redevelopment. Under Mumbai’s existing building bylaws, any redevelopment in the island city releases additional floor space and it is from the sale of this space that Gandhi will make his profit.

But he wants the government to help with transit accommodations for the project. In the other redevelopment programme currently under way for Dharavi, the transit accommodations are being built by the developers themselves.

The Chira Bazar and Kal-badevi areas house some of the largest wholesale markets in India—textiles, jewellery, cutlery, paper, stationery, iron and steel, dry fruits, chemical and pharmaceutical markets. These markets have a combined turnover of a couple of trillion rupees a year and employ around 200,000 people. Gandhi’s challenge will be to ensure that the planned transit camps provide enough space for continued business operations with accessible godowns and storage.

The area is also home to several heritage structures, including temples and mosques that cannot be pulled down under government rules.

A significant portion of the area, the sea-facing part, commercially the most lucrative, comes under the coastal regulation zone. This means that the developer will not get permission to build additional saleable space there.

Milind Deora, a member of Parliament from South Mumbai, feels the government should invite bids from all builders for a project of this size, following the Dharavi model. “The project has to be transparent and the people of the area must get a share of the additional floor space that the builder will get," he says.

Dharavi is following a public-private partnership (PPP) model, with the government implementing the project along with private builders.

Gandhi, however, sees no need to involve others. “We can do it ourselves with the government’s help. The government needs to guarantee that the bylaws are changed to allow the redevelopment," he says.

Sanjay Ubale, special secretary, Maharashtra government, and the person in charge of Mumbai city projects, says that the state governement has taken no decision on backing the project as yet. “They have made a presentation to us but we have not given any go-ahead," he says.

One reason for this is that there is no detailed plan in place as the federation has not engaged a town planner yet.

“The first thing that anyone who wants to redevelop a large area with diverse land use has to do is to map the different uses and create a demographic profile. The zone-wise planning typically follows such a survey," says Mukesh Mehta, the architect who drafted the Dharavi redevelopment plan.

Gandhi claims that in recent months, his organization has conducted a survey that showed that the two wards had around 25,000 families, with a permanent population of 100,000, housed in 2,200 buildings. Of these, 1,777 buildings are in a dilapidated condition.

Meanwhile, prices in the area are galloping. The prices of chawls that were selling for Rs4-5 lakh six months ago have shot up to Rs10 lakh. Tenants and landlords are being wooed by other developers who are offering close to Rs3-5 crore to the tenants for buildings. At Rs18,000 per sq. ft, prices in a few new buildings in the area compare with the upmarket suburbs such as Bandra.

Over the the past two months, Gandhi has addressed two public meetings to convince businessmen, tenants and landlords to back his plan. At one such meeting last Saturday, close to 8,000 residents gathered.

Says Kailash Agarwal, a hosiery wholesaler whose family has been living and working in the area for the last 60 years, “I came to see what Gandhi has in mind. If the area can be redeveloped without affecting our business while releasing the locked up value of real estate, I am for it."

Bharat Porwal, who runs an aluminium sheet retailing business in the area, also says any move to rebuild the area “while allowing us to continue with our business will get everyone’s support." But he adds a caveat: “Only with a government guarantee. Otherwise, I don’t see the project taking off." So, the ball remains in the government’s court.

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