Maharashtra unlocks green belts for townships

The government has justified the move, contending that the revision was “needed to meet the growing housing demand.”

Written by Sandeep Ashar | Mumbai | Published: November 14, 2016 3:39:13 am
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Thousands of new homes could come up on Maharashtra’s green belts with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis incentivising development of townships on these parcels.

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Under the revised norms for integrated townships cleared by Fadnavis, developers will now be permitted to exploit anywhere between 3-3.6 times the existing building rights on green belts, depending on the size of the township. The green belts have so far been characterised by restricted construction activity.

Maharashtra permits developers to set up townships on a composite plot of 40 hectares or more. Under the prevalent norms, a floor space index (FSI) of built-up area to total plot area of 1.7 is permitted for townships in residential or urbanised zones, whereas the FSI on green belts is restricted to 0.6. But the revised norms have done away with this distinction. Depending on the size of the township, the new norms allow developers to build up to 2.2 times the plot size in any zone.

The government has justified the move, contending that the revision was “needed to meet the growing housing demand.” On the proposal’s file, the Fadnavis-led urban development department has also argued that “increasing construction rights on green belts contained in a township would lessen the demand for diversion of more agricultural lands for construction purposes.” It was also clarified that the townships won’t be permitted on land designated as notified forests, water bodies, tribal lands, national parks, defence estates, cantonment lands, and eco-sensitive belts.

While the chief minister has approved the revised norms, senior officials said these would be notified and become applicable after the ongoing model code of conduct for the local body polls is lifted. The revised norms are also applicable to existing township projects where the “occupation certificate is yet to be granted.”

According to official statistics, about 31 out of 33 township projects approved have came up on green belts.

None of these has been granted occupation certificate so far, while 17 have gone into construction. Statistics show that the Pune region has the highest number of approved projects (20), followed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region-Konkan belt (8), and Nagpur (5).

The revised norms state that a township developer is entitled to a basic FSI of 1. For townships on green belts, no development zones, agricultural zones, lands marked as afforestation zones or hill slopes, a developer will have to pay an additional premium of 10-20 per cent of the ready reckoner for zone conversion to residential use. Besides this, depending on the township’s size, a developer is entitled to a further additional FSI of 0.7 to 1 by paying another 10 per cent premium on ready reckoner rates. The state has also retained the existing provision of providing another 0.2 FSI to developers for meeting the obligation of building homes for economically weaker and low-income segments on 20 per cent of the buildable space.

The urban development department had brought out a draft notification for the revised norms on June 7 this year. While this draft had suggested a 20 per cent premium for the additional FSI component, the CM has eased this to 10 per cent following suggestions and objections from the public. Another point to be relaxed was the proposed condition that the means of access to the township must be at least 24 metres wide. This has now been relaxed to 18 metres on par with existing norms. The government, meanwhile, has capped the extent of afforestation zones or hill slope areas to 40 per cent of the township’s total area, while ruling that “no construction shall be permitted on hill tops and hill slope zones having slope equal to or more than 1:5.”

The government has also mandated developers to build a network of dedicated bicycle tracks, intelligent transport management systems and pedestrian pathways in these townships. Taking a leaf from the ‘Smart Cities’ model, it has also demanded Wifi connectivity, 24*7 water supply and green buildings, among other things, in the townships. The existing condition requiring developers to set aside 20 per cent built-up space for economic activity has been retained in a bid to promote the walk-to-work concept. The developers will have to build a township within ten years of obtaining building permissions. They would have to maintain it till a new municipal council takes over the responsibility.

Earlier in May 2015, Maharashtra had eased construction rights for industrial development on farmlands. Later it came out with a similar incentive for development of restaurants, malls, hotels, and other wayside amenities along the state and national highways.

Also eased were the norms for converting up to 25 hectares of green zones into residential zones. Some leading developers, including those considered close to the current regime, have taken up township projects near Mumbai and Pune. The government has argued that townships promoted planned development.

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