Controversial norm permitting construction on recreation grounds done away with

The municipality released the draft of the new guidelines for land use and manner of development under the proposed new regulations on March 22, which do not contain the controversial provision.

Written by Sandeep Ashar | Mumbai | Published: March 25, 2016 12:00 am

IN A major victory in the fight for open spaces in Mumbai, authorities have done away with a development control norm, which permitted construction on public open spaces designated as recreation grounds. The BMC, which is formulating a new set of Development Control Regulation (DCR) as well as a development plan for the commercial capital, has scrapped a provision that permitted construction activity on 15 per cent of a plot area earmarked for recreational grounds.

The municipality released the draft of the new guidelines for land use and manner of development under the proposed new regulations on March 22, which do not contain the controversial provision. Mumbai’s current DCR, formulated in 1991, permits such construction activities. The municipality and the state government have faced a backlash, with politician-controlled trusts, developers, and corporates misusing the regulation to claim stake on public recreation spaces, and convert them into private ‘members-only’ clubs and facilities.

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Under the proposed new land use guidelines, lands earmarked for ‘gardens, parks, club, gymkhana, or Yoga Centre’ will have to be developed only for the intended purpose. No ancillary activity except for the construction of a watchmen cabin, a gardener’s chowky, and a toilet block shall be permitted.

The BMC has also done away with the construction rules for public recreation grounds developed under accommodation reservation, where a land owner/ developer of a plot, reserved for a recreational ground, develops and hands over the reserved space to the municipality. Even for some other public recreational open spaces, including promenades, green belts, riverside/ creek side and nullah buffer zones, the new guidelines permit the same ancillary use. “This has been done to prevent misuse of lands marked as public open spaces,” said civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta.

He added, “In a way, this also removes the difference in the activities permitted in a public playground and a public recreation ground,” Mehta said.

Earlier some citizen activists and town planners had objected to change in designation of certain iconic open spaces as recreation grounds in the new draft development plan. However, the 15 per cent construction rule will be permitted for private recreational open spaces. Also in the case of lands marked for “sports complex”or “stadiums”, the BMC has permitted ancillary facilities including cafeterias, rest rooms, and banks among other uses on 25 to 50 per cent of the built-up space under the new guidelines.

Like in the existing regulation, the BMC has retained the provision to entrust the work of operation and maintenance of public open spaces and public recreation spaces that it gives to a private agency. With the citizens’ fight for open spaces gaining ground, the civic body has also decided not to allow any change of use for public open spaces.

In a first, the BMC has also introduced the concept of time-dependent reservation in the form of “temporary vending zones” in amenity spaces such as parking lots, roads etc. “The primary user of the designated amenity land shall be suspended for one to four hours per week on weekends to permit temporary vending,” the guidelines state.

The Maharashtra government has been, for long, toying with a idea of kickstarting night markets. The National Street Vending Policy, which was approved by the Centre, had advocated setting up of stationary and mobile hawking zones. The state has appointed town vending committees to identify such hawking zones.

The new regulations also provide for lands that would be earmarked for social amenities such as shelters for the homeless, old age homes and assisted living centres for senior citizens, and working women’s hostels, among others. “We plan to have such social reservations in each ward,” Mehta said, adding that “the extent of deficiency of such spaces was being mapped.”

It was mandatory for commercial land users of plots over 4,000 sq. m or more in areas other than central business districts to hand over 10 per cent of built up space in the form of tenements for “project-affected businesses and community workplaces.”

Following complaints of misuse, the BMC had stopped permitting development of lands reserved for public utilities under accommodation reservation. This rider has now been incorporated in the new land use guidelines. It has also been clarified that 10-25 per cent land of over 2,000 square metres plots, which are converted from industrial use to residential or commercial use, would have to be handed over to the civic body as amenity space.

At least 50 per cent of such amenity space will be maintained as public open spaces. For similar conversions involving lands below 2000 square metre, the developer or land owners will be required to surrender 5 per cent built-up area to the BMC in the form of residential and commercial tenements.

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