Dragging Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray into the controversy over a builder claiming development rights at the site of the ancient rock-cut Mahakali Caves, the Opposition BJP on Friday alleged that the Shiv Sena-led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was set to approve the proposal.
Former BJP lawmaker Kirit Somaiya, who has raised several allegations of wrongdoing against the Thackeray family and senior Sena leader in recent times, alleged that the “largesse” was CM Thackeray’s new year “gift” to the builder.
While neither the Thackeray nor the Shiv Sena have so far responded to the allegations, Mumbai civic commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal’s office has refuted Somaiya’s claims as being “totally incorrect” and “untrue”.
On December 12, The Indian Express had reported that Mumbai-based Mahal Pictures Private Limited (MPPL), an associate of construction major DB Realty, had approached the civic body with this rather unusual claim, staking ownership of the cave land and demanding permission to lift construction rights in the form of transferable development rights (TDR), which can then be sold or loaded for use on any property with the Mumbai municipal corporation’s limit.
The caves, believed to have existed since the time of the Ashoka Empire, are classified as a Grade-I protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). At that time, Singh’s office had said that the civic body was not inclined to approve the developer’s request. Reiterating the same on Friday, it said, “The allegations are totally incorrect and untrue. We’ve already clarified that no TDR against Mahakali caves has been granted or will be granted in future.”
The plot on which the ancient caves stand measures 69,966 square feet. As per the prevailing TDR norms applicable in the suburbs of Mumbai, the developer wants the BMC to issue a development right certificate or TDR equivalent to two times of the plot area or 1,39,932 square feet in all.
Somaiya’s accusation comes in the wake of the civic law department’s communication to BMC’s development plan (DP) department, dated December 24, 2012, where it had opined that “an NOC from the Centre’s Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) won’t be required to acquire the land”. Somaiya questioned the need to seeking legal opinion when the civic body had previously rejected claims. Earlier the DP department had referred the matter to its law department after the developer pointed to an ongoing writ petition in the Bombay High Court in this regard. In an official note signed on November 6, Chief Engineer (Development Plan) Vinod Chitore wrote, “In view of the stands taken by various parties in the writ petition, specific remarks of the law officer are sought in respect of request from applicant for grant of development rights in lieu of handing over of the land bearing CTS No 1 of village Vyravali shown as existing social amenity situated near the Kamal Amrohi studio.”
Former civic commissioners Ajoy Mehta and Praveen Pardeshi had earlier rejected the developer’s proposal, citing DCR provisions. “There are documents to show that the file was reopened following a representation by Shiv Sena MLA Dilip Lande,” Somaiya alleged.
The MPPL had acquired the nearby Kamalistan Studio, originally founded by the film director Kamal Amrohi. It has now represented to the civic body that land on which the caves exist is part of the same land parcel. Shahid Balwa, Promoter, DB Realty, had told the Indian Express that his firm’s claim was rightful. “The property card of the land is in MPPL’s name. It has been submitted to the civic authorities. The caves have been designated as an ‘existing social amenity’ in the development plan. Our claim for grant of development rights is perfectly valid,” he said.
For the grant of development rights in cases where the appropriate authority for reservation is other than the planning authority, the DCR makes it clear that it can be done only upon the request of such Appropriate Authority, an official said. In this case, ASI is the Appropriate Authority, and it has made no such request. In fact, in the recent past, officials said that the ASI had specifically opposed the developer’s contention. The DCR also makes the civic commissioner responsible for ensuring the possession of all such land is handed over to the Appropriate Authority only.
In 2016, another controversy had broken out when the civic body had earmarked areas within 200-meter periphery of the ancient cave for rehabilitation and resettlement projects in the development plan, showing a 40-feet road development plan road touching the cave boundary. The caves itself were designated as an “existing social amenity” for the very first time. According to ASI, no development can take place within the 200-m periphery of a protected monument.
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