In a pre-emptive bid to beat the state government’s proposed move to approach the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) on the issue of redefinition of a large part of the island city’s western sea-front as “bay”, developers are now approaching the Bombay High court to get their individual projects for high-rises along the coastline approved.
For areas coming under the definition of “bay”, a 2011 Coastal Regulations Zone (CRZ) notification had reduced the restricted buffer zone to 100 metres from the high tide line from the earlier 500 metres. This led to a flurry of proposals from developers, with projects within the previously restricted zone, who argued that they should be allowed to go ahead since their plots are near “Mahim bay” and “Backbay”. In November 19, 2014, the Supreme court dismissed a petition by the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) challenging the High Court order that upheld the redefinition of Mahim shore as a bay.
Hubtown limited, formerly Ackruti group whose sea-front project in Prabhadevi was taken out of the purview of the CRZ following a SC decision, has now got their other sea-facing project in Gamdevi cleared by the Bombay High Court.
The division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice BP Colabawalla have, in their order, said the developer’s four-acre plot in Gamdevi near Girgaum Chowpatty had become out of the purview of restricted development norms as per the CRZ notification of 2011. It has directed the MCZMA to approve the project within four weeks. Following this, it has said the BMC must permit “development on the project land which falls outside the CRZ area”.
Hubtown will now be allowed to use a higher FSI for their project and go vertical instead of conforming to the earlier FSI cap of 1.33 which is applicable to plots near the ecological fragile coastline.
Another realty major, DB Realty group, also approached the High Court and got a similar favourable order for two of its premium projects. The court has directed the MCZMA to sanction their proposed projects on a two-acre Charni road plot near Marine Drive and on a 7.4-acre plot in Bandra reclamation next to Lilavati hospital.
Within two days, MCZMA gave the go-ahead to two proposals in Prabhadevi, one each from petitioners — Hubtown and Kalpavruksh developers. However, in the same meeting, the MCZMA decided that it will write to the MOEF seeking a direction on how to deal with the remaining 16 cases that have come up before it in the sea-front belt from Bandra reclamation to Raj Bhawan. However, to date, the department has not sent its letter to the MOEF which has the power to amend the CRZ notification preventing further densification of the coastal zone. This has provided developers with a window to approach the High Court. DB Realty was the first to move court, followed by Hubtown, which filed its writ petition on December 12 and got an order five days later.
Medha Gadgil, additional chief secretary for environment, said the delay was due to the fact that the minutes of MCZMA meeting held on November 21 had only just been confirmed by its members. “Moreover, everyone was busy with the winter session of the Assembly. The MOEF is aware of the matter. However, we will still send them a letter and see what happens,” she said.
Environmentalist Debi Goenka said that the MOEF, under former minister Jairam Ramesh, was responsible for easing development rules along areas such as the bay. “In view of threat from rising sea levels, it is still not too late for the current union government to issue a correction on the matter that has led to these areas of Mumbai being wrongly classified as bay,” he said.