In a matter of days, 49-year-old Shantaram Mandavkar’s meticulous planning to keep his family of six financially sound went for a toss as a massive fire gutted his house. Mandavkar lost jewellery and cash worth Rs 15 lakh, his contingency fund to get his three daughters married off and to fund his 12-year-old son’s education. The century-old Gokul Niwas, a four-storey structure where Mandavkar’s family lived, located in the narrow alleyways of Kalbadevi, one of Mumbai’s oldest and densest localities, was eviscerated, a portion of it reduced to a rubble.
The disaster has now put the spotlight on 14,858 such decaying buildings in Mumbai’s island city, in some of the financial capital’s oldest areas, that have structures like Gokul Niwas weakened over the years due to structural alterations and disrepair. Of these, 12,556 are over 65 years old. Most of these, like Gokul Niwas, are tenanted properties with their rents frozen under the Rent Control Act, while redevelopment or reconstruction of the buildings has been sluggish.
Despite the Maharashtra government having rolled out a slew of incentives to developers in 1999 to accelerate the revamp of these decrepit structures, a mere 1,808 buildings have been granted no-objection certificates (NOCs) for redevelopment until now. A little over a third of these projects, 625 to be precise, have been completed with most others in the works for years, stalled due to myriad reasons such as differences between tenants and developers, delays in getting clearances, weak finances, disinterest of landlords and so on. More than 500 projects have not even taken off despite being granted an NOC.
“After much effort, developers get the mandatory 70 per cent consent from tenants for redevelopment. Post that, there is so much time spent in getting the necessary clearances from the heritage committee, the civic body, and the trusts that own these buildings that tenants start to lose interest in the project and their faith in the developer, leading to litigation,” said a senior official from the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). The authority maintains these old buildings, known as cessed properties as they pay a measly cess for their upkeep. MHADA also sanctions NOCs for their redevelopment.
KK Modiwadi chawl in Sewri is a classic example of tenants losing confidence in the developer due to delays. The builder obtained a letter of intent for the chawl’s redevelopment in 1991 and an NOC from MHADA in 1998. The 136 tenants then moved to a transit camp close to the site. The project got a commencement certificate in 2004 by which time some tenants started doubting the developer, dragging the project in litigation. Seventeen years later, the occupants have still not received their new permanent homes.
“We revoked the NOC in 2013 wanting to undertake the redevelopment ourselves, but the landlord challenged our decision in court. The project is still stuck,” the MHADA official said. With there being numerous examples like the KK Modiwadi chawl, tenants are wary of giving their ascent to reconstruction fearing an endless rot in transit camps. “We had heard that several builders had approached our landlord for the redevelopment of Gokul Niwas. We didn’t really get into it. Once tenants move out for redevelopment who knows when they might get a new house back,” Mandavkar said.
Arvind Nerkar, former legislator from south Mumbai’s Girgaum, a dense area with hundreds of old buildings, said, “Developers don’t find these projects financially viable as many plots are smaller than 500 sq m. Supreme Court directions of leaving 6 metres open space on all sides have further affected the feasibility of these projects. Plus, there are construction restrictions too in south Mumbai with many parts of Girgaum falling in the coastal regulation zone, and height restrictions due to the proximity to the Doppler radar.”
Negotiating with landlords, who often demand exorbitant sums, further dents the redevelopment process. Sanjay Kajare, a resident of an 80-year-old Popat building, a cessed structure in Girgaum, said, “Being a real estate consultant by profession, I had myself initiated talks with our landlord, but the kind of amounts that he was quoting as compensation made the entire redevelopment process completely unviable from the developers’ perspective. The state government needs to fix a ceiling for the amount that landlords can demand, linking it to the ready reckoner rate.” The wooden building, last repaired through MHADA funds about 15 years ago, lies in a perilous state with 21 tenants like Kajare praying that there are no mishaps.
For better upkeep of such buildings, the state government is mulling over repealing the Rent Control Act for commercial tenants over 500 sq ft and residential tenants living in over 861 sq ft. This will allow landlords to charge rentals at the market rate and make them solely responsible for maintaining their buildings.
Under its new housing policy, the government is also considering amendments to the Development Control Regulation 33/7 that provide a framework for the redevelopment of cessed buildings.
Among the major changes proposed, the government is considering allowing the amalgamation of small plots of cessed structures, even if not contiguous, but in the vicinity of each other, to take up the project under the ‘cluster redevelopment’ scheme where the minimum plot size is required to be 4,000 sq m. The government is also planning to set a timeline of 6 months from the date of granting NOC for the developer to begin work, and three years for the project to be completed. If the developer fails to do so, MHADA can acquire the land and itself undertake the redevelopment.
Besides, with several cessed structures being protected heritage properties or located in heritage precincts, the government also wants to streamline the approval process from the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee that can currently take months. The draft policy suggests that clearance will be deemed to have been granted within 60 days if the project is not appraised within that period.