Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Saturday alleged that current Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had diluted Mumbai’s development control regulations to favour “certain big builders” in the run-up to the civic polls in Mumbai. On January 6 this year, the CM-led Urban Development department issued a notification raising the Floor Space Index (FSI) for all slum rehabilitation projects undertaken on plots spread over 4,000 square metres. The FSI is a development tool that defines the extent of construction permissible on a plot. It is the ratio of built-up area to the plot area. The FSI was raised from 3 to 4, meaning that slum developers will now get to build up to four times the plot size. While previously slum colonies with a high density of hutments (650/hectare) were permitted the higher FSI, the notification had basically relaxed the density norm extending the perk to most slum developers. Incidentally, the model code of conduct for the ensuing elections kicked in on January 11.
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Chavan, who had himself headed the Urban Development department when he was the head of state, alleged, “We (the Congress) have information that the measure was taken to favour a select coterie of big developers.” Addressing newspersons at the Maharashtra Congress office in Mumbai, the former CM further questioned the “need to amend the regulations” when the city’s new development plan had been readied and was in approval process. “The government extended the perk to developers while not altering the minimum tenement size of rehab homes,” he said.
Chavan also raised similar objections over the Fadnavis-led department’s move — also in the month of January — to do away with the insistence of “housing stock” for redevelopment of Mhada colony plots below 2,000 square metres. The government’s notification permits such builders to pay premium to Mhada instead of built homes from the surplus housing stock. “I had discontinued the premium option during my tenure for improving the affordable housing stock. Even then, several builders would approach for relaxation in this norm but we had persisted with it in public interest. It is unfortunate that this has now been diluted,” he said. The former CM demanded “reconsideration” of the decisions.
For Mhada colony plot over 4,000 square metres, the government has also raised the FSI from 3 to 4 while mandating that the additional 1 FSI will be used for building and handing over afforable housing stock to Mhada on the payment of construction cost.
Countering the Congress claim, a senior BJP minister said, “The government hasn’t implemented these measures so far. Suggestions and objections have been invited from the public over the government’s intent in both the cases. A final notification is still pending. The measures are meant to motivate developers to implement the government’s plan to create more housing stock in the market and also add to the public affordable housing stock.”
Chavan’s allegation comes at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena are locked in a fierce election battle and have been trading serious charges against each other. The bitter fight between the allies has hogged the media space in the build-up to the campaign impacting Congress’s plan. Admitting this, Chavan said, “It is the theatre of the absurd. They (the Shiv Sena and the BJP) have been levelling all sorts of allegations against each other while continuing to coexist in seat of power in Maharashtra and the Centre. This is unprecedented and condemnable. Maharashtra had never seen such politics before. It has become a joke, a comedy theatre really. But I would request the people and even the media to focus on the core development issues.”
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam said, “The CM says the Shiv Sena is a party of haftakhors (extortionists), while the Shiv Sena claims that the BJP is a party of goons. An obvious question then is why have they continued to coexist together? The entire drama is scripted and is a sham.”
Sources said the party’s move to rope in Chavan, who remains a credible face, for articulating the Congress point of view was a bid to remain relevant in media space. Chavan, meanwhile, claimed, “The continuation of the Shiv Sena in the BJP-led government in the state and the Centre was untenable.”
The Congress also attempted to dispel the perception that it had some sort of understanding with the Shiv Sena. Keeping up its attack against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had earlier taunted Modi over his “raincoat” jibe against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while heaping praises on the Congress for “leading the country on the path of development post independence”. Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana, too, has been praising the previous UPA regime. Both Chavan and Nirupam articulated that the Congress does not need “a certificate from the Shiv Sena” for its achievements while in power. “I wish to clarify that we are out to dethrone the Shiv Sena in Mumbai. The Shiv Sena-BJP combine in Mumbai municipality is responsible for the sorry state of affairs in the city. We are in this election to unseat them both. The Shiv Sena is resorting to misinformation campaign since it senses defeat,” Chavan said.
Party’s MP Milind Deora also fired a sharp volley at the Shiv Sena over the unsolicited praise. “I only wish I could say the same for the Shiv Sena-BJP reign in the Mumbai municipality. There has been utter misrule over the past two decades,” Deora said.
Chavan also slammed Modi for his statement in a Haridwar election rally on Friday where he had said the BJP had a detailed dossier on the Congress leaders. “Fadnavis had made a similar statement in the state previously. Now the PM has repeated it. This is extremely shameful and marks a new low in politics,” he said, adding sarcastically, “If they are aware of some wrongdoing committed by any Opposition leader why haven’t they acted against him? Both of them should be booked for abetment of crime in that case.”
Chavan added, “This is nothing but dangling a sword to threaten and blackmail Opposition leaders. They (the BJP) have been using all sort of tricks to break people away from other political parties, including veiled threats of ordering an inquiry and cash inducements. This is politics of the lowest degree,” Chavan said.