In a bid to endear itself to the burgeoning middle class ahead of crucial municipal polls in the state, the BJP government has revived a controversial policy for regularisation of unauthorised constructions on a mass scale in urban belts. Nearly 2.5 lakh unauthorised buildings in these urban belts are likely to benefit from this largesse, according to a conservative estimate of government’s town planners.
The government’s previous attempt for extending the largesse had backfired when the Bombay High Court rejected the policy on April 27 this year terming it “arbitrary” and “contrary to the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act and Development Control regulations”. A division bench of Justices A S Oka and Prakash Naik had at that time said, “If such a large number of constructions are regularised it will put pressure on civic amenities, building supply, roads etc”
But on Friday, the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis-led Urban Development department submitted an affidavit to the Court seeking permission to implement it. Earlier on Thursday evening, the Maharashtra Cabinet had approved the proposal for reviving the policy.
Minister of State (Urban Development) Ranjit Patil confirmed the development when he announced in the Legislative Assembly that the “regularisation policy was on the anvil.” Government sources said Fadnavis is likely to spell out the policy in both houses of the legislature Monday.
The move comes ahead of the elections to ten municipal corporations including Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, and Nagpur, 26 Zilla Parishads, and 196 municipal councils, all of which are scheduled before March 2017. Sharp rises in food commodities, education, and healthcare in the past two years have hit the middle class hard denting BJP’s popularity. Party sources confirmed that the party was hoping that the “dangling of the regularisation carrot” would arrest this downslide in time for the elections. The illegal building menace is the most pronounced in parts of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Pune, and Pimpri-Chinchwad.
So the policy is to regularise all unauthorised structures, constructed prior December 31, 2015, found to have committed zone and floor space index (FSI) violations within the permissible construction level by collecting a one-time penalty (compounding).
The penalty has been linked to market rates, with the government also hoping to fill up state coffers through the exercise. Further while the government has maintains that illegal constructions on lands reserved for public reservation and vital infrastructure projects won’t be tolerated, it has made available the option of relocation of the reservation and rehabilitation of those affected by such unauthorised constructions.
Some private housing industry analysts claims that the actual number of the beneficiaries could well cross the five lakh marks. In Mumbai, residents of the Campa Cola compound might be among the sop’s immediate beneficiaries. In adjoining Navi Mumbai, it could extend a lifeline to 20,000 residents of the Digha village, where the HC has ordered demolition of all unauthorised buildings. Over 1 lakh buildings in Thane have been reported to have committed illegalities, while 65,000 unauthorised buildings exist in Pimpri Chinchwad. For Thane, questions are being raised on the impact of the regularisation scheme on the cluster redevelopment policy, especially brought out to deal with the illegal building menace in a planned manner.
The state’s largesse won’t be applicable to slum clusters. The state’s affidavit in the Court clarifies that the cut-off date for regularisation of slum structures will remain at January 1, 2000. While the Court had earlier pointed out that the “drastic regularisation” exercise will force planning authorities to modify city’s sanctioned development plan, the state’s affidavit has clarified that the sop would be extended on a case-to-case basis, and would only involve cases where the irregularity was “regularisable” under laws. It has also said that submission of a structural stability certificate would be a must for all beneficiaries. For ensuring that the policy doesn’t cause further proliferation of illegal construction, the state has said that only those constructions found to be prior the December, 2015 deadline on a satellite imagery will be eligible for the sop. The Court had also objected to a regularisation clause for buildings having inadequate parking area and set-back areas.
Interestingly, in March, 2015, when the government first introduced the policy, the Chief Minister had announced he would enforce penal provisions incorporated in the Housing Regulatory Act to rein in illegal constructions. But government officials conceded that this has not been done. While the government has promised criminal action against unscrupulous builders responsible for such unauthorised constructions, the policy says nothing regarding action against officials and bureaucrats responsible for them. “The MRTP Act already provides for action against officials. So it wasn’t included in the policy document,” said a town planner.
In the run-up to assembly polls, the previous Congress-NCP government had appointed an expert panel for measures to deal with unauthorised structures in urban areas. The BJP government’s policy is based on this report.