The Maharashtra government has often spoken about its ambitious ‘Housing for All’ plan, where it aims to build nearly 11 lakh homes by 2020. While that sounds impressive on paper and in speeches, one question that everyone has been asking is where will the land come from? High land costs have been cited as the primary reason why houses in Mumbai remain unaffordable, so how will the government solve this problem? The state government seems to have taken the first step towards crossing this hurdle through its plans to open up defence lands for affordable housing. “We are signing an MOU with the defence ministry to take over unused defence land within Mumbai city and we will use it to build affordable housing. We will ensure that the land taken will not compromise the security of nearby defence installations. In return, we will give the defence ministry land in other parts of Maharashtra”, says Prakash Mehta, Minister of Housing for Maharashtra.
This is a significant move as the defence ministry lays claim to large plots of land in prime areas in the city. What’s more? Similar MOUs are being considered with other central government agencies including the railways and the Airports Authority of India. Experts say this could also set a precedent for other state governments to sign similar agreements and unlock hundreds of acres of land for development. The land thus acquired will cost almost next to nothing, substantially reducing costs and making it ideal for constructing affordable housing. “The railways are sitting on almost 4.2 lakh hectares of land. The defence ministry is sitting on 17 lakh acres of land. The Mumbai port trust is another example, sitting on 350 acres of prime land in Mumbai. These numbers by themselves show the staggering amount of land that can be opened up for development”, says Joe Verghese, Managing Director of Colliers India.
While the problem of land seems to have been sorted out, funding seems to be on track as well with the government engaged in talks with global funds to fund the programme. In fact, the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis has gone on record stating that nearly $ 2 billion dollars is waiting in the wings. “A week ago, the Canadian ambassador informed me that the Canadian pension fund (CPPIB) is ready to invest $2 billion in Mumbai for affordable housing” he claims.
While everything seems to be falling in place, concerns have been raised over how the ‘Housing for All’ programme will be executed. Some experts believe that the government should handle the construction themselves using agencies like the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority or MHADA to build homes. However, other opine that the government overlook the masterplan and broader outline of the programme, while allowing private builders to come in, use their efficiencies and unlock the true value of the land.
While the government considers both views, it is essential that the opportunities brought about by unlocking land in these zones not be lost as in the case of the Lower Parel mill lands. Every care must be taken to ensure that this land is used only for affordable housing.
Nikhil Narayan Sivadas, Assistant Editor, NDTV