In a bizarre move, a Mumbai-based construction firm has staked ownership of the land on which the ancient rock-cut Mahakali Caves stand. The caves, known to be in existence since the Ashoka Empire, are classified as a Grade-I protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Documents show that Motion Pictures Private Limited (MPPL), an associate of construction major DB Realty, has approached the Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with this rather unusual claim.
While no development is permissible in and around 200-metres periphery of the protected site, the firm has sought the BMC’s permission to lift development rights for the cave land in the form of transferable development rights (TDR), which can then be sold or loaded for use on any property with the Mumbai municipal corporation’s limit.
As per civic estimates, the plot on which the ancient caves stand measures around 69,966 square feet. As per the prevailing TDR norms applicable in the suburbs of Mumbai, the developer wants the BMC to issue a development right certificate or TDR equivalent to two times of the plot area or 1,39,932 square feet in all. Earlier in 2016, the same firm had acquired the nearby Kamalistan Studio, originally founded by the film director Kamal Amrohi. It has now represented to the civic body that land on which the caves exist is part of the same land parcel.
According to the documents, the firm had first applied to the BMC in this regard on May 24, 2019, and has repeatedly followed up on the matter since. For the time being, the BMC is maintaining that the developer’s proposal is not admissible. But Shahid Balwa, Promoter, DB Realty, when contacted, told The Indian Express that his firm’s claim was rightful. “The property card of the land is in MPPL’s name. It has been submitted to the civic authorities. The caves have been designated as an “existing social amenity” in the development plan. Our claim for grant of development rights is perfectly valid,” he said.
Having rejected the developer’s claim in the past, documents also reveal that the BMC’s development plan (DP) department, on November 6, 2020, forwarded the matter to the civic law department after the developer pointed to an ongoing writ petition in the Bombay High Court in this regard. In an official note signed on November 6, Chief Engineer (Development Plan) Vinod Chitore wrote, “In view of the stands taken by various parties in the writ petition, specific remarks of the law officer are sought in respect of request from applicant for grant of development rights in lieu of handing over of the land bearing CTS No 1 of village Vyravali shown as existing social amenity situated near the Kamal Amrohi studio.” The Chief Engineer’s note clearly mentioned that the legal opinion was being sought on the basis of civic commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal’s consent to do so. Former civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta, who went on to retire as the state’s Chief Secretary, had earlier rejected the developer’s proposal citing DCR provisions
For grant of development rights in cases where the appropriate authority for reservation is other than the planning authority, the DCR makes it clear that it can be done only upon the request of such Appropriate Authority, an official said. In this case, ASI is the Appropriate Authority, and it has made no such request. In fact, in the recent past, officials said that the ASI had specifically opposed the developer’s contention. The DCR also makes the civic commissioner responsible for ensuring the possession of all such land is handed over to the Appropriate Authority only. On Saturday, the BMC clarified again that it was not inclined to approve the developer’s request. Earlier a major controversy had broken out when the civic body had earmarked areas within 200-metre periphery of the ancient cave for rehabilitation and resettlement projects in the development plan, showing a 40-feet road development plan road touching the cave boundary. The caves itself were designated as an “existing social amenity” for the very first time. According to ASI, no development can take place within the 200-m periphery of a protected monument.
Earlier on September 26, 2020, Chahal had granted an “in-principle” nod to MPPL’s proposal for grant of development rights in lieu of an existing road that connects the caves to the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road.
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