BMC Takes On A Tricky Plan To Give Mumbaikars Affordable Homes

The BMC is planning an ambitious scheme to open up No-development zones to build affordable housing in Mumbai. On the face of it, this could provide a huge boost for affordable housing stock in the city, but critics are unconvinced.

NDZ Lands For Affordable Housing

Nowadays, it has become common for governments and authorities everywhere to launch one affordable housing scheme after another. And the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is not one to be left behind. The agency wants to encourage the building of 10 lakh affordable homes in the city over the next 2 decades, a feat that is only possible if cheap land can be found. The BMC’s solution to this is to open up nearly 3,000 hectares of land for development, the vast majority of which comes from No-Development Zones (NDZ)

“There is almost no land available in Greater Mumbai that can be used for constructing the amount of affordable housing that is needed by the city. NDZ lands can act as a reserve which the government can tap into for future development. And the BMC is right in using this to encourage affordable housing.” says former municipal commissioner DM Sukthankar.

Let’s look at the numbers. Nearly 2,100 hectares of this land consists of No-Development Zones, while 500 hectares falls under tourism development areas, e 260 hectares are salt pan lands and another 140 hectares belong to the Mumbai Port trust. Opening up just the NDZ lands can provide the cheap land that is essential for building affordable homes. But this move has come under severe criticism, even from the government’s own ally.

“We have sent a letter to the Chief Minister and the Municipal Commissioner suggesting that no construction be allowed on NDZ lands and salt-pan lands. Mumbai city needs these top remain open spaces.” says Trishna Vishwasrao, a Corporator from the Shiv Sena.

Critics Slam Government’s NDZ Plans

Opposition to opening up NDZ lands has been mounting from various corners. Environmentalists feel it will spoil the city’s sensitive eco-system. Urban planners are worried about rampant development leading to overcrowding. The other worry is that much of the area is undeveloped and creating the necessary infrastructure could raise the costs of the home being built here, making it unaffordable yet again. And finally, there is the fact that most of the No-development lands are owned by private landowners and developers who have been lobbying to open the area up for development. Experts feel these private developers will inevitably raise property prices under the pretext of building affordable homes.

“My biggest concern is in allowing private developers to construct affordable homes here. Recently, there was the example of a developer who built premium homes in a plot where he had committed to build affordable homes. The courts had to intervene and force him to build affordable homes. The history of this city has shown time and again that private developers do not construct affordable homes, but in fact jack-up prices.” warns Gulam Zia, executive director of Knight Frank India.

Many believe that the government should consider handing over development of NDZ lands to government bodies like MHADA or the MRMDA. Unlike private developers, these agencies have proven track records of building affordable homes in remote areas on schedule. The government needs to take stock and decide soon. If it squanders this opportunity, then Mumbai would have lost its last chance at building affordable homes.

Nikhil Narayan Sivadas, Assistant Editor, NDTV


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