The state government has finally stepped in to ensure that Mumbai gets its due share from the erstwhile textile mill lands, which can be used for social housing and public open spaces, although most owners of such land have already reaped profits by cashing in on the expensive real estate in central Mumbai. Official records show that only two private mills and eight government sector mills are still available for development. Until 1996, there were 54 mills. Of these, 29 were privately-owned, while the rest were owned by the government.
These mills were collectively spread over 600 acres of land in central Mumbai. Almost all of them have now shut down, with most of the private mills metamorphosed into swanky malls and luxury residential skyscrapers. In 1991, when the government first unlocked these lands for development, the promise was that two-thirds from the 600-acre land mass would be used for creating social housing and open spaces. For every corporate office, luxury apartment, and mall that came up on such lands, the mill developers were supposed to give a third of the space to the city as public open space, while leaving another one-third space for housing of mill workers and construction of transit shelters for the project-affected people.
The rationale behind it was that all these lands were leased to mill owners a century ago at rates as low as a rupee, and if the land has now turned into a prime real estate, and the industry has shut down, there was no justification of appropriation of the real estate value by mill owners alone. But most private mill owners ended up exploiting a ‘contentious’ amendment introduced in 2001 by the state’s Urban Development department to this original land sharing rule. The amendment stated that only vacant or open land inside such mill lands was to be considered while working out the public open space and the mill workers housing component. Now sixteen years later, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who heads the Urban Development department, has reversed this amendment.
The department has brought out a government resolution stating that the “entire mill land should be considered for the land sharing.” The caveat, however, is that the latest modification won’t be applicable in cases where the share for mill-workers’ housing and public housing has already been handed over according to the prevalent regulations. A senior government official admitted that the loophole should have been plugged long ago. “The government is of the opinion that to fulfill requirements of mill workers’ housing and to increase social facilities, the pattern of land sharing should be changed. It is of the opinion that in the larger public interest it is necessary to urgently carry out a suitable modification,” states the government resolution, which has been signed by Urban Development department’s Under Secretary Kishor Girolla.
The Mumbai municipality had first proposed changes to the land sharing pattern in the city’s newly proposed development plan. Taking a leaf out of the same proposal, the government has now amended the existing development control regulation. But while the proposed development control regulation had recommended that the share of open spaces and low-cost housing from the entire mill land be reduced to 18 per cent each, the government has retained this share at 33 per cent of the total land. While the mill worker outfits have been demanding that an amended land sharing pattern also be applied to mills that have been redeveloped partially, the government has not incorporated this demand. The government has invited public suggestions and objections on its amendment.