The heritage status of Birla House in Mumbai has been upgraded by the Mumbai heritage review committee but industrialist Yash Birla’s plan to raise money by parting with a portion of unutilised development rights of this structure has been rejected, for now. Birla House in Malabar Hill was a Grade-III heritage site, now accorded Grade II status. The Mumbai heritage review committee put it on par with similar buildings and precincts of regional or local importance that possess special architectural, aesthetic, or historic significance.
The property is owned by the Birla family controlled Laxmi Properties.
But the flip side is, Mumbai municipality has disapproved a proposal for sanctioning Transferable Development Rights (TDR) for the property questioning applicability and the extent of TDR permissible.
In September, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had directed Mumbai civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta to examine whether heritage TDR could be sanctioned for the property and to determine the extent to which it could be granted, if admissible.
The Indian Express has official documents to show that Birla’s architect Anil Patil had first approached the civic body requesting a grant of 98,009 sq feet heritage TDR in lieu of “unutilised development potential” of Birla house. The property is spread across a 58,257 land area in Malabar Hill. With heritage TDR rates hovering around the Rs 15,000-Rs 16,000 per sq ft mark, this would have basically translated to TDR to the extent of 168 per cent of plot area or around Rs 150 crore in value. Norms permit trading or selling such right to construction projects in the same ward. In September, Birla confirmed to The Indian Express that his plan was to use resources raised through sale of TDR to pay dues of depositors who have invested in group companies.
The file reached the CM’s office after former municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte approached the Fadnavis-led Urban Development department for a decision on the matter after certain queries regarding the applicability of the proposal were raised. The CM then tossed the ball back in BMC’s court in September directing the new civic chief, Ajoy Mehta to decide on it.
Mehta confirmed he recently rejected the proposal. Sources said the proposal submitted by Birla’s architect took town planning norms for redevelopment of cessed building into account, even as the Birlas had formally just proposed additions and alteration to the existing structure, which falls in this category of buildings.
According to town planning norms, while redevelopment of a cessed building can be carried out with a Floor Space Index (FSI) of upto 2.5, FSI of 1.33 is permitted for additions and alteration to an existing building. Officially, Birla’s architects justified their demand for considering 2.5 FSI, arguing that the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) had on May 28, 2009 turned down a proposal, which involved pulling down the two-storey bungalow for a 44-storey high rise. But, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), whose No Objection Certificate (NOC) is mandatory for redevelopment of cessed buildings, did not appear to agree to this viewpoint and had stated in an official letter issued to the BMC on November 7, 2012 that the question of issuing an NOC in this case did not arise. “The NOC is issued for redevelopment of cessed buildings when the owner submits a proposal in the prescribed format. In this case, the proposal for redevelopment has been rejected by the MHCC, which has only permitted additions and alterations to the existing structure. Hence the NOC in absence of a redevelopment proposal does not arise,” the letter had said.
While rejecting the proposal, Mehta said Birla’s present proposal cannot be considered in the absence of Mhada NOC. The civic commissioner observed that as there was no rehabilitation of tenants, the spirit of regulation for redevelopment of cessed building was not being met. “The proposal cannot be taken up under norms for redevelopment of cessed buildings,” said Mehta, adding that he had passed this ruling after examining the case in detail. But Anant Vardhan, president, Corporate Affairs and Communication, Yash Birla Group, said, “The civic body itself has categorised the property as an ‘A’ category cessed structure. The Mhada too has issued a letter endorsing this. We had moved the proposal since government norms entitle redevelopment of such structures with an FSI of 2.5 (now 3).” Ironically, it was the heritage committee itself, which while granting an NOC to the revised proposal for additions and alternations, that had recommended grant of heritage TDR for the “unutilised development potential” of Birla House, while pointing out that it had earlier rejected the redevelopment proposal.
Government sources, however, pointed out that the panel, which was then headed by retired IAS officer Dinesh Afzalpurkar may have exceeded its brief. “The structure was still Grade III when the panel recommended grant of heritage TDR. Development control norms applicable in case of Grade III structure make it clear that there is no need to send a redevelopment proposal to the heritage panel. A special permission from the civic commissioner is required only in cases where the proposed redevelopment is higher than 24 metres.”