At least 50,000 people in Mumbai’s western suburbs of Kandivali and Malad heaved a cautious sigh of relief this week after the Ministry of Defence’s notification of 17 November, amending the guidelines to construction work around defence areas. Thousands of people belonging to the middle-class have until now been denied the right to redevelop their own small houses for over five years, a situation, they hope, will change now.
A Maharashtra government notification of 2010 and an MoD notification of 2011 had scuttled all redevelopment projects in the densely packed areas of Kandivali and Malad. Considering Mumbai is a space-crunched island, which can expand only vertically, the lack of no objection certificates (NOCs) has left the future of many middle-class, retired families bleak. “Not a single permission has been granted to any redevelopment project in the past six years,” said Atul Bhatkhalkar, BJP MLA from the area.
CRUX OF THE MATTER
Since the past 40-50 years, many four-storied buildings were constructed along the boundary of the Central Ordnance Depot, which is spread over 17 acres in Kandivali and Malad. But after the Adarsh scam was exposed in 2010, the cautious state government issued a notification making it mandatory to seek permission from the local military authority before undertaking any construction activities inside the 500-metre radius of the defence establishment. Further, the MoD too issued a notification to similar effect in 2011.
The gist of both the notifications was that the local army officials were expected to analyse if there were any security threats because of the reconstruction. But what happened on ground was that the wary officials started denying NOCs to all the proposals that came to them, without going into the merits of any case. This led to a huge stress on local redevelopment projects. While the municipal corporation branded many 40-year-old buildings as ‘dilapidated’, the stay on their redevelopment made many people homeless.
“Earlier, builders used to approach us for redevelopment. They used to pay our rents until the completion of the projects. But now, since the stay on construction, builders have refused to pay rent. How will middle class, retired people afford rent at such suburbs? This is forcing us to become homeless,” said an elderly man at Arya Chanakya Nagar. Three buildings in Akurli which are located within 100 metres of the COD, have been declared dilapidated, and have been vacated.
“At least 5,000 people have been rendered homeless in the past two years in my constituency alone,” Atul Bhatkhalkar said.
At a time when the skyline of Kandivali and Malad is teeming with high-rises and commercial malls which have a direct and unhindered view of the COD, a blanket denial to redevelop small buildings is illogical, say residents.
As a hoarding put up by the residents of Arya Chanakya Nagar, Jyeshtha Nagrik Sangha and Rahivashi Sangha says, “The Kalpatarus (multi-storied plush housing complexes) are standing magnificently just adjacent to the compound of COD, Mumbai. There have been allegations of violations of certain rules and regulations while granting them sanctions. Consequently, the concerned officers from defence and civil are believed to be in neck-deep difficulties. There is a fear psychosis among their colleagues. Genuine redevelopment proposals for 10-12 storeys — middle class population, are being rejected merely due to distance. This is blatant injustice.”
Bhatkhalkar said he had raised the issue during the legislative session in Nagpur. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis assured him of action. After that, the Chief Minister’s Office wrote to the Ministry of Defence seeking relief for the citizens. Sources closely associated with the ministry said that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had directed amendment to the notification in September itself.
Now, since the time the notification has been issued by the MOD, local political leaders have enlarged a copy of it and pasted it in the area. “We came to know about it through these posters. For many of us here, this is true Diwali. We will now be able to live in our own houses,” said a resident.
“The language of the notification looks positive. It says that the municipal corporation or the state government should seek comments from the military authority. This is different from the NOC. We hope the circular will bring a change to our lives,” said Shrikant Patwardhan, a senior citizen from the area.
THE NEW NOTIFICATION
On 17 November, the MoD notification addressed all the three Chiefs of Staff. This notification regarding “Guidelines for issue of No Objection Certificate (NOC) for building constructions” added the following paragraph to the previous notification of 18.05.2011:
“Wherever buildings/ structures of four storeys or more already exists within 500 metres of the periphery of any Defence establishment and the construction proposed is in line with or behind i.e. in the shadow or shield of such building/structure, the State Government/Municipal Corporation may, after obtaining comments from the LMA and giving due consideration to the same, decide whether to approve such proposals or not. LMA shall give his comments within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of a reference from the State government/Municipal Corporation. This order will be implemented prospectively.”
What this means is that the local civil authorities will look into granting permission to reconstruction work if it comes within the line of an existing building or in the shadow of other high-rises which block its view of the defence establishment. The local military authority will have to give its comments on the matter in a limited time frame of 30 days.
But the notification has raised many questions too. “Now that the word ‘NOC’ has been removed, does it mean that the state government or the local municipal corporation will take a final decision on the matter? What if the LMA gives adverse remarks? Will permission still be granted if the discretion lies with the civic authorities? Also, there is lot of ambiguity in it. If a high-rise is already constructed within 100 metres of the defence establishment, will permission for other buildings be given too? Then what is the point of the previous notifications?” asked a lawyer who did not wish to be named.
As of now, the aged owners of their 400-square feet houses feel happy in the hope that may be, during their lifetime, they will be able to get permission for the redevelopment of their shaky homes.