A proposal of the Maharashtra revenue department to treat a portion of the Arabian Sea foreshore in South Mumbai as revenue land has been cleared by the state government. This, officials say, sets an “unhealthy” precedent since it amounts to recognising unauthorised reclamation.
Official documents obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act show that on July 15, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis approved in principle the revenue department’s proposal to treat a foreshore portion on the seaward side of the High Tide Line (HTL) in the Nepean Sea Road area as revenue land.
Mumbai’s latest coastal zone management plan, approved by the Centre on August 16, 2018, shows that the portion in question is located in the inter-tidal zone. The Union Environment Ministry, in its latest CZMP for Mumbai, placed the foreshore portion in the ecologically sensitive coastal regulation zone-IB, where no construction or development can be undertaken with the exception of foreshore facilities like ports, harbours and jetties among others.
The documents also show that the revenue department had processed the proposal after slum developer, M/s DLPL Infrastructure LLP, had approached Fadnavis in this regard. On September 26, 2016, in a letter to the CM, the developer requested him to “issue directives to the Mumbai (City) Collector for providing a cadastral survey number to the ‘foreshore land’ for a slum redevelopment project to be undertaken” on it. On September 29, the department forwarded the developer’s demand to the Mumbai Collector, on which the CM noted, “Collector of Mumbai, examine and do the needful.”
Reached for comment, Fadnavis said, “The government has only given in-principle approval to survey the foreshore land and to give cadastral survey number to the land parcel determined as a result of the survey. The government letter to the Mumbai Collector in this regard is limited to this in-principle approval only. The developability of the land parcel shall be subject to CRZ laws and Mumbai’s development regulations. A NOC from the environment department had been obtained before giving the in-principle approval. There is no illegality or favouritism done.”
The office of Maharashtra’s Settlement Commissioner, which oversees land measurements and surveys, had earlier recorded on the file that “when the lands in Mumbai were surveyed, the portion in question was under water”.
The developer’s letter also acknowledges that the portion is a ‘foreshore land.’ Contending that a slum pocket, measuring about 21,528 sq ft and comprising 100 shanties, had come up on the land, the letter stated that a proposal for in-situ redevelopment of the slum dwellers — they have formed a collective called the Shivaji Nagar CHS (proposed) — had earlier been admitted by the state-run Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), the developer complained that it had not progressed further as the land survey number had not been given.
While his letter claims that the slum scheme was submitted in 2011 itself, documents show that on August 27, 2015, when it was admitted, SRA’s then CEO Aseem Gupta imposed the rider that “the scheme may be submitted but nothing should be processed further till the CS No. is given to the land by the Superintendent of Land Records (SLR).” He also asked the Mumbai Collector to take necessary steps as per legal provisions for surveying the portion, deciding its ownership, and issuing an independent property card after prior government approval.
As the developer argued that the slum dwellers had been residing on the property for the last 30-40 years, an October 17, 2018 report from the Settlement Commissioner’s office indicated that the slums had come up after illegal reclamation. Kishor Tavrej, the then Deputy Director (Land Records), wrote, “The slum exists along the shore. When the lands in Mumbai were surveyed, the portion was found to be under water. The slum has clearly come up on the portion later.”
The environment department, too, said that the land in question was a foreshore. It reasoned that under CRZ regulation, no development or construction was possible. The developer, meanwhile, maintained that the land was situated in the less restrictive CRZ-II zone. The RTI documents show that two previous Mumbai Collectors, Ashwini Joshi and Sampada Mehta, had pointed out to the government that there was no policy for surveying and granting revenue land status for foreshores.
Meanwhile, the Settlement Commissioner’s office also cautioned the government over the broader implications of the move. Tavrej, in his report, stated, “It is felt that the government should take a conscious decision in this regard, considering that similar demands could be raised in future as well. It should examine the impact (of the move) on the shoreline, the coastal environment, and the CRZ.”
On June 13, 2017, Mehta, then Mumbai Collector, had even questioned the developer’s authority to seek the land survey. “The SRA has clarified that it hasn’t approved the slum scheme yet. There are no papers or supporting documents to validate the developer’s status.” Mehta also pointed out that in 2014, the state government itself had turned down a proposal to similarly grant survey numbers for two foreshore lands in Banganga citing CRZ norms.
Reached for comment, Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) Manu Kumar Srivastava said: “We have just labelled the portion as land. It is for the competent authority to independently decide whether the land is developable or not.”