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‘If a builder is not ready to carry forward an SRA project,government should step in’

Addressing the need for affordable housing,State Housing Department Minister Sachin Ahir talks to The Indian Express about various housing schemes and how they need to be modified for effective implementation

SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: In terms of affordable housing,how much of it has been achieved and what are the key concerns?

Sa: In 2006,we thought the state needs a housing policy. In 2009,we came up with a solution and signed an agreement with the MCHI to create five lakh affordable houses throughout the state to have private participation in affordable housing. For the first time,we also decided to allow MHADA to start purchasing private land. MHADA should have played a vital role in creating satellite cities of Thane,Mira-Bhayander,Bhiwandi,but unfortunately at that time the policy was that MHADA can only buy government land. Under this new policy we have purchased and started the development of a large part of land in Pune (about 16.76 hectares),Nashik (about two hectares),Vasai,Virar and some parts of Konkan where we are now planning townships.

SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: Are you hopeful that the Maharashtra Housing Bill passed by the Assembly last year will get cleared by the President this year?

We are hopeful. There is just one hitch. Last week,Ajay Maken,Minister for Housing and Poverty Alleviation,during his visit said the Centre was seriously thinking about a model Act for the entire country,but we are arguing that one cannot compare India and Mumbai or Maharashtra due to scarcity of land. As per the Act the Assembly passed last year,any builder developing a plot of more than 4,000 sqm has to register with an authority. He will get a code number and only after that will he be eligible to do any advertisements,sale or purchase.

SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: There is always a clause by developers in their sale deed that the plans are subject to change,right?

We have brought an amendment that if the builder has to make any changes,it has to be with the consent of the buyer. We have also made a provision that a developer cannot sell 10 per cent of his total housing stock. A lot of builders cannot complete the project owing to financial problems or personal problems. In that case,60 per cent of people who have purchased the flats can come together as an escrow agent and this 10 per cent stock can be handed over to them,who can take this project ahead with the help of contractors. Also,now in future if there is some violation,not only will the builder be facing a penalty,but also an imprisonment up to three years.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Maken had also said Mumbai needs to open up its Floor Space Index. What is your opinion?

We are also of the same opinion but it depends which area we should open up FSI for. We can’t throw open the FSI for the entire city because infrastructure is a major problem. So,we are thinking why not implement it in Mumbai Metropolitan Region. We allowed an FSI of four in the rental housing scheme to create more affordable housing.

MAYURA JANWALKAR: Is there any limit on the amount of time a developer can take to complete a project?

Around 41 permissions are required for a building project. We are trying to implement the single-window clearance in cluster redevelopment projects under 33/9 of the Development Control Regulations (DCR). We have set up a high-powered committee to give clearances with members of different agencies as members. Once this committee gives an in-principle approval,getting formal approvals from other agencies is not difficult.

MANASI PHADKE: Despite all this,the cluster redevelopment policy has not really taken off as envisaged. What are the hurdles?

There are two major hurdles. There should be more incentives for developers to opt for redevelopment under 33/9. Secondly,projects get stuck even if 10 per cent of the people in the cluster do not cooperate. We have formed a committee of all secretaries to review overall DCR. So under this,we are considering if say 10 per cent of the people are not ready to be a part of the scheme then they can be forced under the law.

MAYURA JANWALKAR: Developers often charge a black component in their property dealings and essentially evade taxes. What steps are you taking to curb this practice?

We have taken care of all these aspects in the amendment of the law for housing. For example,we have been saying builders should charge on the carpet area,but builders have not been following this. We are doing a couple of things to restrict this. One is that the plan of the BMC should be passed only by carpet area and not super built-up area. Secondly,the revenue department should only register the flat if the plan is based on the carpet area.

MANASI PHADKE: MHADA had come up with a report last year about how two chief ministers had given away 67 prime plots in Mumbai between 1999 and 2003. MHADA had later decided to revoke the allotment of 39 plots that were not used. Is there any development on that front?

These all plots are amenity plots that were reserved for education,hospitals and so on. The trusts are in violation if they have not used the land. In some cases the trusts have done a joint venture to develop the plot with someone else. They are taking advantage of being a charitable trust,which as per law is allowed to take the help of another trust if it is not able to complete construction by itself. The Prime Minister is also looking into it.

MANASI PHADKE: What is the final decision on the CM’s two per cent discretionary quota in housing?

We have given an affidavit to the court. We had formed a committee to take a decision on the discretionary quota. As per the committee’s decision,50 per cent of the houses will be service quarters for government employees and for the other 50 per cent,we have set a criteria for eligibility to get houses. MHADA can go on with distributing the houses lying vacant under this quota.

SHARVARI PATWA: With rampant redevelopment going on in the city,how is the state protecting the heritage value of the city?

Cultural heritage is there,but in the name of heritage we cannot stop redevelopment. These buildings are more than 80 years old. If you look at old buildings,practically the frontage is heritage,but internally it has been repaired by MHADA,private owners or private tenants. But heritage must be preserved and while designing a redeveloped structure the overall look has to have heritage value.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Are there instances in SRA projects where the projects have builders who are politicians or are backed by politicians?

So far,there are around 600 proposals that have been approved under SRA. Typically,we look at the proposal as a whole and not the builder or other details. But there are some controversial proposals that come our way. We have formed a redressal committee to address complaints and allegations against builders.

STUTI SHUKLA: You spoke about the changing skyline of central Mumbai. Does the government have any record of how many houses have been purchased but are lying vacant. There are people who buy houses for investment purposes,which keeps property prices high?

We are looking at that aspect,too. We are interacting with various organisations conducting such surveys. Although the data is not accurate,an estimated 40-50 per cent houses in the city are lying vacant.

My view is that there should be scrutiny of houses purchased under MHADA or other such schemes. The government should keep track of who is staying and leasing our properties. But it is difficult to get such data in case of private builders and schemes.

MAYURA JANWALKAR: There are instances of discrimination based on religion,sex,and caste in case of selling houses or renting them out. Is there a specific policy regarding this with a provision for penalisation?

There is a policy but ultimately the Society Act provides and allows members of a society to decide to whom to sell a flat or rent it out. But there is a need to amend the Society Act. There was an instance that a society largely consisting of Jain community members had discriminated against and refused membership to a person. Although in case of a builder,he cannot make such a discrimination against anyone. There are cases of single women not getting homes,Muslims not getting homes in largely Hindu localities and vice versa. This is more of a social issue.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Are there reputed builders in these 600-odd SRA schemes,which have been approved because there is an image that the consent mechanism for such schemes is handled by politicians?

Firstly,we cannot leave SRA at the mercy of the developers any more. So in case a builder is not ready to carry forward a project,then the government should step in and take over the project. We are revamping the Shiv Shahi Prakalp Ltd model for this purpose. Also,reputed builders do not want to come in because they fear political interference,muscle tactics or tenants who do a U-turn after giving initial consent. Gradually,corporate houses such as Omkar,IL&FS and so on are showing interest by getting into joint venture with other companies,but until we scrutinise and stop the practice of these Letter of Intent being traded in the open market,corporate houses will not be interested in executing such schemes.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: In case of cluster development,unless one has huge tracts of land it is not really feasible. How do you solve this issue?

We have created a website for the purpose. We have demarcated nearly 16,000 old,dilapidated buildings. The government is thinking of creating cluster on its own on those maps. This will also need an analysis of the overall connectivity of the area,environment aspects and the social implication of such a project.

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: How do you ensure that a flat remains with an intended user,for example in SRA,what if they sell it to someone else?

We have a law against such practice and in case a buyer violates the law,we can acquire the house. We have such 100-150 cases. In MHADA lottery system also,this was a practice earlier but now the percentage of such incidences is less.

(Transcribed by Sharvari Patwa & Manasi Phadke)

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