A 22-acre portion of a famous beach in Mumbai’s Malad has been marked as a residential zone in the city’s new development plan (DP), which the state government has now proposed to turn into a public garden or a park.
The foreshore land in question is a part of Malad’s Erangal beach, more popularly known as the Silver beach. Even as the draft DP maps published by the Mumbai municipality in May 2016 had designated the beach as being a ‘no development zone’, the government, which notified the new DP on May 10 this year, has earmarked this as being part of a ‘residential zone’.
While reclaiming the part of the beach, it has further proposed to turn the 22-acre land into a public garden or park — a proposal over which suggestions and objections have been invited.
Mumbai development plan: Beach marked as residential zone set to be turned into public park https://t.co/dQUzqnJEXn
Mumbai Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta had previously declared that all eco-sensitive areas in the city, including beaches, mudflats and national parks among others, had been classified as ‘natural areas’ on the DP where no kind of construction would be permitted.
However, Mehta was also a part of a three-member government scrutiny panel, which accepted the controversial modification of the land use in the case of the Malad beach. State Principal Secretary (Urban Development) Nitin Kareer and Additional Chief Secretary (Housing) Sanjay Kumar were the other members on the panel.
Sources confirmed that the modification had been proposed suo motu at the level of the state government. In other words, civic town planners who first drew up the DP and a state-appointed planning committee that had reviewed public objections and suggestions over the draft plan, had not recommended the contentious modification. Documents further show that even the civic general body, which approved the draft DP last July hadn’t moved any such recommendation.
Just as the authorities remain tight-lipped about the controversy, questions are being raised on whether the change is being done to suit the interest of a business group with wide interests, including in the hospitality sector. Prominent businessmen and top Bollywood personalities have also built bungalows around the shoreline in recent years.
Meanwhile, the 3,000-strong local fishermen community — residing in Bhati Koliwada area abutting the sea — is up in arms against the move.
While the foreshore lands belonged to the Mumbai (suburban) Collector, Ganesh Koli, chairman of the Bhati Machhimar Sarvodaya Sahakari Society Limited (MSSSL), said that the “fishermen community has been using the land in question as a drying and a fish netting yard for centuries”. He pointed out that the state’s revenue records show that the Mumbai (Suburban) Collector had in 1983 formally reserved the 22-acre land for fishermen to use it as a fish ‘drying and netting’ yard.
When contacted, officials in the Collector’s office confirmed having reserved the land for the fishing activity in 1983. The Indian Express also accessed the 7/12 extract of the land in question, which records the fishermen’s right to use the land for the activity on occupancy basis.
“The chief minister had earlier announced that the fishing villages and reserved areas used by the fishermen would be separately marked and protected. But now, the land crucial to our subsistence and livelihood is being taken away to serve the interests of the builders’ lobby,” Koli said, adding that his community won’t allow the modification to go through at any cost.
Ironically, records of the revenue department show that the government had entered into a leave and license arrangement with a resort owner for the beautification of 15-acre portion of the foreshore land on January 31, 1990 — which was valid for five years — while making it clear that the “right of the fishermen to use the land won’t be affected”.
MSSSL secretary Dhanaji Koli said that about 170 drying yards have come up on the land. The community’s cremetorium also exists on this land. “It has been there for centuries,” Dhanaji claimed.
In January this year, acting on the complaint of a bungalow owner, officials from the Collector’s office had come to raze the pucca construction made for the cremetorium, but the demolition team was sent back after local MLA Aslam Shaikh stepped in.
Local fisherman Bona Koli and his wife Manisha, whose drying yard is located right next to the cremetorium, said that if the land was reclaimed for a park, they would lose their only source of livelihood.
Incidentally, since 2001, the bungalow owners, who have set up an association, have been approaching the Collector’s office, to clear the foreshore land of the fish drying yards. “They have claimed that this blocks their access to the beach, and that the smell of the fish leads to health complications,” said an official from the Collector’s office.
But an inquiry panel, appointed by the Collector following the complaint in 2001, had pointed out that such an eviction exercise could also lead to “law and order issues” since the fishing community was strongly opposed to it. It had also said that it would hit the livelihood of the community. The panel’s report had suggested that a middle ground — where the Kolis are permitted to retain one portion of the land and the rest is opened to public use — could be explored after examining if the fishermen were open to the idea.
But the fishing community is opposed to it. “We have been here for centuries and have been using the land. They (bungalow owners) have settled recently. We have complained that some of their constructions are in violation of norms. But the government officials have conveniently turned a blind eye to these,” said Ganesh Koli, the MSSSL chairman.
In 2004, a PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court seeking the removal of the drying yards, but the court had disposed it of, following the Collector’s affidavit stating that the land had been reserved for fishing activity. The court had ordered that a portion of the land near the fishing village should continue with the land use.
The DP’s controversial change of use means that the Collector land would have to be acquired by the Mumbai municipality for the development of the public park or a garden.
“A similar attempt was made while drawing up the draft plan. It was foiled after we opposed it,” alleged Dhanaji Koli. Maintaining that the land is in the residential zone, the community plans to object formally to the proposed modification.
With government’s new policy for development of public reservations in Mumbai permitting transferable development rights (TDR) in lieu of development of reservation, some have even questioned whether the modification was being done to enable such a benefit. Senior officials from the state’s UD department, when contacted, however, maintained that the TDR benefit was permitted only in the case of private plots for now.