The Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has offered a private builder development rights worth over one lakh square feet in lieu of an existing public road in use since 1914. Official documents show that Mumbai civic commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal had granted “in-principle” approval to the proposal on September 26, 2020, following an opinion submitted by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led Law and Judiciary department of the Maharashtra government and the Sena-controlled Urban Development department.
Raising allegations of wrongdoing against the chief minister, BJP’s former MP Kirit Somaiya, on Friday, labelled the entire episode as a “multi-crore FSI fraud committed by the Thackeray sarkar to facilitate the developer”. He has demanded a probe in the matter. Both the Chief Minister’s Office and the developer in question have rubbished Somaiya’s allegations.
But documents accessed by The Indian Express show that the BMC’s Chief Engineer (Development Plan) had previously questioned the validity of granting development rights in lieu of an existing public road. The proposal was in consideration since December 19, 2018 when the developers first approached the civic body in this regard. A BJP-Shiv Sena government was in power at that time.
According to the documents, Mahal Pictures Private Limited (MPPL), an associate of construction major DB Realty, which is in the process of redeveloping the famous Kamalistan Studio on the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR), had on December 19, 2018, first applied to the BMC for the grant of transferable development rights (TDR) in lieu of the road in question, contending the possession of the road in question had been taken in the past without paying any compensation to the plot’s owner at that time in violation of norms. The realty major had acquired the Kamalistan Studio, originally founded by film director Kamal Amrohi in 2016. Then in 2019, DB Realty had announced plans to transform the erstwhile studio in India’s largest commercial office park in association with Avinash Bhosale Infrastructure Limited and Bangalore-based RMZ Corp.
The road in question is an existing 30 feet wide internal road that connects the JVLR to Mahakali Caves. It is being used by the general public to gain access to Mahakali Caves, which are listed as a protected monument with the Archeological Survey of India.
Documents reveal that on January 31, 2019, BMC’s Chief Engineer (Development Plan), in a note submitted to the then civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta, who later retired as state’s Chief Secretary, mentioned that “the access road in question was granted by the then owners to the ASI vide agreement dated July 21, 1914. With the efflux of time, the road which was a private access road at that time became a public access road and was reflected as a development plan (public) road in Mumbai’s DP of 1991 and 2034.” Arguing that there was no provision to grant TDR for an existing amenity or road in the development plan, the Chief Engineer’s note had contended that the developer’s proposal was not admissible.
However on March 5, 2019, then civic chief Mehta, too, had backed the developer’s contention. He wrote, “the interpretation that the development control rules (DCR) do not permit any compensation to be paid for an existing road can be used to deny compensation can have serious implications. Since there is no clear definition of an existing road in the DCR, it is not clear whether the roads shown without paying compensation could be treated as existing roads or not. The critical point (in the proposal) is to examine whether compensation had been paid to the land owners in the past. If not so, then the owners will be entitled to compensation.”
BMC officials later contended that “compensation was not paid in the case.
Subsequently on March 3, 2020, Pravin Pardeshi, who took over from Mehta as civic commissioner, had also sought an opinion of the state’s Law and Judiciary department (L&JD) and the Urban Development department regarding the developer’s proposal. On September 22, 2020, L&JD communicated that the “owner was entitled to compensation.” The UD, meanwhile, argued that in cases of existing roads where compensation was not paid, prohibition regarding grant of TDR in the DCR was not applicable.
DB Realty meanwhile has denied any wrongdoing on its part. “There is a clear-cut SC order that in cases where land was taken away without compensation, the owner is entitled to due compensation as per law. They (the BMC) are not doing us any favour. It is our right. Moreover, the BMC has agreed in principle only after referring the matter to the state’s law department,” Shahid Balwa, promoter, DB Realty, said.
Responding to Somaiya’s allegations, Thackeray’s media advisor Harshal Pradhan said, “Allegations being raised against the CM are totally false and childish in nature. God bless the ones who have raised these allegations. They are trying to malign the CM, but the common man knows that Uddhav Thackeray is working in their interest.” He added, “If some irregularity comes to light in the matter, the CM will definitely look into it.”
Incidentally after getting in-principle nod for grant of TDR, MPPL filed another proposal seeking monetary compensation of Rs 74 crore in cash instead, which has been shot down by the BMC.
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