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Behind Maharashtra’s plan to treat a portion of the seashore as ‘land’

Earlier this month, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis gave in-principle approval to a proposal for a survey, and to give a cadastral survey (CS) number to the identified portion of the shoreline.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai |
Updated: July 30, 2019 7:10:37 am
Mumbai, maharashtra news, Maharashtra plan, sea, sea as land, maharashtra government, devendra fadnavis, indian express express explained During high tide (left), water reaches close to the slum which stands on the illegally reclaimed foreshore land. (Express Photo: Nirmal Harindran )

The Maharashtra government has decided to treat a part of the Arabian Sea shoreline at Mumbai’s Nepeansea Road as “revenue land” — that is, land that is utilisable and disposable, and which can generate revenues.

Earlier this month, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis gave in-principle approval to a proposal for a survey, and to give a cadastral survey (CS) number to the identified portion of the shoreline.

The part of the shoreline in question (the black rocky patch in the picture) was marked as “sea” at the time of Mumbai’s last land survey. Since then, about 100 shanties have come up illegally on a portion of this land.

And even as the Chief Minister has said that the “developability” of the newly surveyed “land” would be assessed in accordance with Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms and rules governing construction activity in Mumbai, a developer has submitted an in situ slum redevelopment project for the land, which has been admitted by the state-run Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA).

Official documents show the Revenue Department processed the proposal for surveying the foreshore area after the same developer forwarded a request to the CMO.

So where is this portion of the seashore that is proposed to be treated as “land”?

It is the part of the seashore lying between the low tide mark and the high tide mark in this particular part of South Mumbai. Mumbai’s latest approved Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) categorises it as an inter-tidal zone or foreshore, and places it in the ecologically sensitive CRZ-1B category. The CZMP shows it as lying to the seaward side of the high tide line (see map).

Mumbai Coastal Regulation Zone survey, mumbai coastal road survey, mumbai coastal road development, maharashtra sea land, devendra fadnavis, indian express explained

Officials of Maharashtra’s environment department have clarified that as per the CRZ notifications of both 2011 and 2019, no development or construction is permissible on this portion even if it is categorised as revenue land. The 2019 notification allows only foreshore facilities such as jetties, harbours, and ports in such places.

Why then has the developer submitted a plan for this part of the shoreline?

Slum-dwellers on this illegally reclaimed portion of the shore have come together to form a “housing society”, and have authorised the developer to carry out in situ re-development. Reached for a comment, the developer has told The Indian Express that he wants the land to build houses, if the laws permit. According to the builder, the slum has existed on the reclaimed portion since 1985.

Why is a land survey of the kind authorised by the CM necessary in this case?

A cadastral survey is done to determine the land boundaries of a city, ward, or plot. Since the foreshore area was under water when the last survey was carried out, and exists beyond the current boundaries, a survey is necessary to determine its boundaries. The survey will also effectively increase the ward boundaries.

Once the Superintendent of Land Records carries out the survey and marks the new boundaries, the Mumbai Collector’s office would be expected to decide the ownership of the newly formed land, and assign it a CS number. Under The Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966, ownership of foreshore areas vests in the state government.

An independent property card will then be generated containing all the details. The CS number and the property card are essential documents for the assessment and development of any land.

A cadastral survey in Mumbai was carried out a century ago — between 1915 and 1919. Land maps have since been updated from time to time to reflect changes in boundaries. The Superintendent of Land Records has said that several new foreshore lands have surfaced across the city since the last full survey was carried out. In many cases, like the Nepeansea Road plot, land has been illegally reclaimed. Official reclamations were carried out in Backbay Reclamation and the Cuffe Parade area in the mid-70s.

Why is there criticism of the decision to carry out the survey?

Critics say this amounts to recognising illegal reclamation of the seashore. No policy framework exists for dealing with foreshore areas, and some senior officials fear this proposal might lead to similar demands at multiple places along the Mumbai Metropolitan Region shoreline, exposing the coastal areas to a fresh wave of construction. Instead of treating such proposals on a case-to-case basis, a policy should be framed in consultation with affected groups, the various stakeholders, and after examining the impact on coastal livelihoods and the environment, the officials say.

In order to regulate building activity along India’s coasts, and to conserve and protect the coastal environment, the union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a CRZ notification in 1991 under The Environment Protection Act, 1986. The notification was revised in 2011 and 2018, and has been amended from time to time. But activists often complain that these laws are not being followed in letter and spirit.

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