Despite objections from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the state government’s Urban Development (UD) department, led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, has ruled in favour of granting additional construction rights to a super luxury residential project of the Lodha Group, promoted by BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha.
The under-construction building on Altamount Road, on a plot formerly owned by the US consulate, has secured astronomical prices with buyers coughing up as much as Rs 1.6 lakh per square foot for the customised duplexes and triplexes.
While the BMC’s building proposals department approved plans for 37 floors, the proposed 38th floor has sparked off a controversy. According to documents accessed by The Indian Express, the Lodha Group sought permission for the additional floor, arguing that it was entitled to it on the basis of incentive floor space index (FSI) available under the much-debated Public Parking Lot regulation, also known as Regulation 33 (24) of the Development Control (DC) regulations. The BMC rejected this, claiming the FSI demanded was higher than permitted.
The dispute reached the state government last September. Documents show the Chief Minister, on May 23, 2016, directed the “Principal Secretary of the Urban Development department (Nitin Kareer) to take a hearing on the issue”.
The hearing was held the following week but it was only on August 30 that the department moved a proposal to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) recommending that the BMC be asked to reconsider its stance. When contacted, Fadnavis said, “The UD secretary will take the hearing and do whatever is legal.” Under DC norms, the state’s decision would be final.
A favourable order will translate into additional construction rights of over 1,798 square ft for the premium project, but senior town planners said the impact of the move would be wider. “It’ll open up a Pandora’s box. Several other developers will line up seeking additional construction permission on similar grounds,” said a senior civic official. While the UDD has said the decision was applicable only to Lodha’s project, an official confirmed that another construction giant was already waiting in the wings.
According to the documents, the Lodha Group first opted for the Public Parking Lot scheme on this plot in 2012, almost immediately after it purchased it.
Under this scheme, a developer can avail FSI incentives for setting up a parking lot on a portion of the plot. Based on an evaluation by a high-powered panel, the UDD approved a scheme for 204 light motor vehicles (LMVs) totalling a built-up parking space of 10,198 square metres. As per prevalent norms, the developers were entitled to an FSI perk of 50 per cent of the built-up area — 5,099 square metres, or 54,880 square feet. This translated into an available buildable space of 8,740.92 sq metres, or 94,087.26 sq feet, considering a basic FSI of 1.33 times the net plot area remaining after deduction of the road setback area and the area for Recreation Ground (RG). The BMC argued this was capped as per norms at four times the net plot area, or 91,494 sq feet.
While the Lodha Group did not object to the BMC interpretation of the incentive FSI scheme when building plans were approved in 2013 and 2014, it raised objections last September when it proposed the 38th floor.
The developers have contested the BMC’s practice of deducting 15 per cent of the plot area as RG space before computing incentive FSI. In their representation to the government, the Lodha Group pointed to TDR provided to construction in the suburbs, where the RG component is not deducted. Arguing that the BMC had approved the 204 cars parking scheme, the developer’s architects, SpaceAge Consultants, have said “it would be injustice if the developers weren’t allowed to utilise the entire incentive”.
The developers have also cited past cases where the incentive FSI for Public Parking Lot projects was computed without RG deduction. They contended the additional construction right be granted on the fait accompli principle as the municipality had already taken possession of the parking lot in February this year.
A senior civic official said the argument was flawed. “FSI is always worked out on net plot area after deducting area for roads, reservations and RG, unless there is a specific mention about FSI being admissible on gross plot area — such as in redevelopment of mill lands, MHADA colonies, urban renewal schemes, etc where the purpose is to aid construction of affordable houses,” one official said. The BMC has followed this practice for FSI in other projects under the 33(24) regulation also.
Official records show that over 60 such proposals have been cleared so far. Barring eight to ten cases where the parking lot scheme was clubbed with a redevelopment scheme where FSI is admissible on gross plot area, all permissions have been processed on net plot area.
If the ruling in this case goes in the developer’s favour, then many others will reapply for additional construction rights, an engineer with the Building Proposals department said. Documents show that Sanjay Banait, Deputy Director of Town Planning, whose opinion was sought, cautioned the government of the bigger impact the move could have.
A Lodha Group spokesperson said, “It appears that the information (available with the paper) is incorrect. We are only claiming the FSI for the Public Parking Lot (PPL) which has been approved and handed over for public use. The said FSI is on net plot basis, after necessary deduction, calculated in exactly the same manner as the BMC has done in cases of other PPLs as well as TDR.” When The Indian Express sought a further clarification on the arguments of the BMC, the spokesperson said, “We don’t have additional comments to provide besides our earlier statement.”
The project, meanwhile, has seen high-profile apartment deals. In July this year, Ramesh Jain, chairman of the Bhilosa Industries Private Limited, reportedly booked a 12,600 sq feet triplex here for Rs 180 crore. The owners of Jindal Drugs last year reportedly paid Rs 160 crore for another 10,000 sq feet duplex.
Civic chief Ajoy Mehta said, “We are awaiting the state’s clarification in this regard.”