Nearly 3,000 acres of “salt pan” lands in Mumbai could soon be freed up for development with the Mumbai suburban collector Sanjay Deshmukh passing an order that salt is no longer cultivated in these lands and they belong to the state government.
This order calls for deletion of “salt pan” from the record of rights and replace it with government of Maharashtra, paving way for modification of land use.
The January 4 order also dismissed the contention of the Central Salt Commissioner that the ownership of these lands are vested with the Government of India. The Centre and state, represented by the Salt Commissionerate under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, were locked in a battle over the ownership of fallow “salt pan” lands for 33 years.
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The collective area of these lands situated in 10 suburban Mumbai belts, equals nearly five times the size of erstwhile mill lands in central Mumbai. These lands would be the biggest land parcel if unlocked. Although the order directly impacts 59 suburban plots, senior officials said it would also set a precedent for other such lands in the state.
Over 13,000 acres in Maharashtra, including 5,378 acres in Mumbai, have been earmarked as salt pan lands. CM Prithviraj Chavan had last November made a case for freeing these “developable” lands for socio-economic purposes in a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The biggest tract of land, directly impacted by the order, is situated in the Trombay-Mandala belt in the eastern suburb (1,198 acres), followed by Mulund-Nahur belt (1,178 acres) and Chembur (333 acres).
An empowered Group of Ministers (eGom) under UPA-I has already suggested that developable salt pan lands be split between the Centre and the state 50:50. Chavan recently requested the PM to expedite a final decision in this regard. Central government sources said another option of allotting one-third share each to the Centre, state, and the plot occupant was also being examined.
The Salt Commissionerate has approached Konkan divisional commissioner Radheshyam Mopalwar against the ruling. It has reiterated the Centre’s right on the lands and has even submitted a 328-page documentation to back its claim.
In his order, Deshmukh had argued that the Salt Commissionerate had been unsuccessful in providing evidence proving the Centre’s ownership beyond doubt. Officials from the Salt Department, however, refuted this. Mopalwar has asked officials from both the commissionerate and the collector’s office to submit plot-wise documentation on land ownership.