In a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet low-cost housing scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), three construction projects approved by the Centre in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region have now been shelved. While the Modi government’s Centre State Monitoring Committee for PMAY had earlier granted locational clearance for building 6,415 low-cost houses at these sites, it has now emerged that the lands in question were already reserved for other public purposes.
Consider this. A 50-hectare plot in Vasai’s Juchandra was cleared for building 3,630 low-cost homes. But it has now emerged that the land has a dense mangrove cover, and has the status of a “reserved forest.”
“No development is permissible on the plot since it is an eco-sensitive belt,” a senior Maharashtra government official said. While the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), the nodal agency for implementation of the PMAY in the state, had approached the state’s Urban Development (UD) department for changing the plot’s land use, the latter declined the request citing environmental loss.
Similarly, an 11-hectare plot in Raigad’s Khalapur, which had the Centre’s clearance for building another 2,685 low-cost homes, was found to be already reserved for a recreational open space and public institutional space. “The UD department did not accept the proposal for changing the land use on this plot as well. Hence the project has been withdrawn,” confirmed a senior state housing department official, who wished to be not named.
On the same lines, a project for building 1,100 plots on a four-hectare plot in Raigad’s Pen, also cleared by the Centre’s committee, was shelved, following the UD’s report that the plot was already marked for various public reservations including a primary school and a playground in the region’s Development Plan.
Requesting anonymity, a senior government official admitted that the episode raises questions over the process used by the state government while identifying these lands for the project. In a bid to perform the bhoomipujan for nearly 33,510 houses for the economically weaker sections and 6,250 other houses for the low income segments at 11 proposed construction sites in the MMR before local body polls in Mumbai and Thane earlier this year, the ruling BJP had rushed the clearance for these projects.
Without obtaining administrative and technical approvals for some of the sites, the state government had even issued tender notices for these works, which were later scrapped. Senior MHADA officials confirmed that so far, the state government had managed to issue work orders for just a couple of sites, whereas tenders for two other sites have been issued. The four sites account for just over 10,000 homes. Most out of the remaining seven sites are situated in green zones, which invite restrictions on development activity.
Housing Minister Prakash Mehta, who undertook a review of PMAY projects on October 6, has expressed discontentment over the slow pace of implementation of the flagship scheme. While the government has set a target of building 11 lakh affordable homes in the MMR by 2022, senior sources admitted that non-availability of public land for the purpose was a major constraint.
Mehta, while seeking a speedy rollout of the doable projects identified, has demanded MHADA and housing department officials to focus on creation of affordable housing stock through public-private partnerships.