An employee unions’ outfit and a city-based collective have decided to challenge the Maharashtra government’s much-debated decision to free-up lands declared surplus under the erstwhile Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976.
In November last year, the Devendra Fadnavis government had decided to lift curbs on the development of these lands against payment of a premium ranging from 5-20 per cent of the market rates of the plots as determined by the government’s annual ready reckoner.
But with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region alone accounting for 5,582 acres of such vacant land, questions that the government’s latest measure, which is set to benefit some top business families, industrial houses and land owners the most, would allow the beneficiaries to “wriggle out of the obligations of surrendering flats or lands to the government for affordable housing” are being raised.
Echoing this viewpoint, Vishwas Utagi, co-convenor, Trade Union Joint Action Committee (TUJAC), an umbrella outfit representing 40 major trade unions in the state, said that the “government is out to benefit the ultra-rich at the expense of the common man and the working class with the move.” He confirmed that TUJAC, along with Nivara Abhiyaan, Mumbai, a collective that fights for the cause of social and affordable, have decided to challenge the government’s decision in the court.
The ULCRA Act, which was subsequently repealed in 2007, had a ceiling on the extent of vacant land an individual entity could hold in urban agglomerates. This had been imposed to prevent the “concentration of urban land in a few hands”.
The same Act, however, contained provisions that permitted states to exempt surplus vacant lands from the ceiling by imposing stringent conditions of their development.
In Maharashtra, the condition imposed for such exempted lands was that tenements built on such lands had to be sold at government determined rates. Five per cent of the built-up tenements had to be surrendered free of cost to the government to promote low-income housing. While the section exempting these lands was saved even after repealing of the Act, official figures show that a majority of the beneficiaries were yet to comply with the conditions.
Contending that it lacked the manpower to ensure compliance of the condition and quoting a status quo imposed by the Supreme Court in 2014 over action in cases of violations, the government has now agreed to lift these curbs on payment of premium and a condition that the size of apartments construction on such lands won’t be over 80 square metres.
“This is the biggest land grab in the state’s history,” claimed Utagi, valuing the worth of the land at over Rs 20,000 crore. Earlier on July 2, a two-member bench of the Supreme Court had accepted the consent terms signed between the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (MCHI) and the state government in this regard, permitting the former to withdraw its old case against the government over the fate of these lands. “The government move will encourage manufacturing units holding such lands to shut down causing massive unemployment, while also leading to loss of several thousand acres of land meant for public housing,” claimed Utagi.