City skyline set to change as SC okays clusters of towers

The face of Mumbai will change forever as the Supreme Court on Thursday greenlighted the pulling down of all pre-1940 buildings, including chawls, to make way for highrises.

The highrises that would be constructed by the developers to replace over 16,000 old buildings, which are eligible for being pulled down and redeveloped, would have to accommodate the present tenants of the old buildings.

This means they would move from their dilapidated tenements and occupy flats with a minimum area of 225 sq ft in brand new buildings at no cost. However, in lieu of the free rehabilitation of tenants, the builder can make profits by exploiting a portion of the land to construct a tower which he can sell in the open market.

A bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and P Sathasivam upheld the Development Control Rule 33(7) as amended in 1999 and set aside the limitations on FSI and other restrictions imposed by the Bombay high court. DCR 33(7) will have immediate applicability to 16,502 buildings, which are listed under category ‘A’ by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) since they were constructed prior to September 1, 1940.

These buildings, irrespective of whether they are dilapidated or not, can now be redeveloped “whenever 70% of the tenants/occupants of such buildings came together along with their landlords for redevelopment of their properties”. They would also be entitled to extra FSI as an incentive.

The court accepted MHADA’s stand that under the DC regulation, houses with an area of minimum 225 sq ft would be provided free of cost to all tenants in these pre-1940 buildings.

While validating DCR 33(7), the bench took into account a survey conducted by the civic corporation in 1980-81 which showed that “30,237 buildings would have crossed their lifespan by 1996”. The Kerkar Committee report also recorded that the vast majority of the buildings would have to be reconstructed, the SC noted. It also relied on a report on the Development Plan for Greater Bombay which showed that way back in 1981, 5,82,200 tenements were required to house the natural growth of population.

The SC, clearly relying on facts and figures, also recorded the fact that “in 1991, nearly 73% of the population (living in such buildings) occupied one-room tenements—vertical slums; 18% lived in two-room flats. This meant that more than 90% lived in small areas”.

“Those occupying large areas constitute only 2.7%. Between 1961 and 1991, the number of households increased to 20,88,000, most of which are only of 100 to 120 sq ft,” the bench said.

“It is thus clear that the policy is to enhance the quality of lives of those living in such poor conditions,” said Justice Pasayat, writing the judgment for the bench.

The high court was not justified in reading additional requirements into DCR 33(7) after holding the same to be valid, the bench said.

The public spirited petitioners who had filed the original PIL before the Bombay high court in 2004 had been concerned with the problem of congestion of the population in the island city of Mumbai which covers the area from Colaba in the south to Mahim and Sion in the north.

“The existing infrastructure in the island city, particularly with respect to roads, water supply, sewage system, open areas and gardens, is already overstretched and under extreme strain,” the PIL had said adding that the island city has already reached saturation point with respect to the population that it could accommodate.

According to the Report on the Development Plan of Greater Bombay, 1966, the total acreage of the island city is 17,388.83 acres and the ultimate population, which it can accommodate, is 32.5 lakh. An estimated 33.4 lakh people were already residing in the island city two years ago.

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