Nauzer Bharucha, Times News Network, 26 September 2018
A 500-acre parcel of land, the largest chunk of private open space in the western suburbs that could easily fit in as many as 23 Oval Maidans but which environmentalists call an eco-sensitive zone, has finally been opened up by the state government for construction.
The land at Pahadi in Goregaon (West) belongs to the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Group. About 106 acres of it is controlled by the Lucknow headquartered Sahara Group.
Last year, the land was marked by the BMC as a natural area (NA) in the draft development plan for the city, which meant no construction could be allowed there. Only a small strip of about 45 acres of the plot was demarcated for a special planning authority to be used for a public infrastructure project.
The state urban development department has now modified the development plan (excluded portion) for this land and marked a national law university and metro car shed on a portion of this vast tract.
TOI has learnt that the proposed university has been planned on a 100-acre parcel while the metro shed has been allotted another 70 acres. However, the biggest beneficiary of these reservations will be the land owners, who will now be able to exploit the remaining portion of the property.
After parts are surrendered for the university and car shed, the land owners will get additional construction rights, thus opening up the rest of the 500-acre sprawl to development.
The Sahara Group’s 106 acres, earlier defined as a “no development zone’’, has now been declared a Special Development Zone (SDZ). Under the SDZ policy, the owner will surrender more than half the plot to the BMC for affordable housing, public amenities and open spaces. On the remaining portion of the land, additional construction incentives will apply for building residential or commercial buildings.
Construction industry sources said anticipating the government’s plan to open up the Sahara portion, some of Mumbai’s biggest developers have approached them to jointly develop the plot through a development management agreement. These include D B Realty, Shapoorji Pallonji, Piramals, Subodh Runwal Group, Omkar and Suntek Realty. Sources said a prominent Pune-based builder was a key player in getting this land opened up for development.
“The development potential of this 106-acre parcel could be worth Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore,’’ said an industry expert.
Since 2002, city environmentalists have maintained that mangroves on this land were deliberately destroyed by dumping debris, a charge denied by the land owner. They said no construction should be permitted because it is wetland.
But early this year, a state government-appointed panel, tasked to determine if the site was reclaimed and mangroves destroyed, concluded the land has had no mangroves since 2006. The panel chaired by principal chief conservator of forests, Shree Bhagwan, took 2006 as the cut-off date for its study as directives notifying mangroves as ‘protected forests’ came only after a high court order of 2005.
Environmental activist Debi Goenka said satellite images showed the area was once under thick mangrove cover, which was systematically whittled down through the late 1990s and the early part of the last decade.
In January, the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Applications Centre (MRSAC), Nagpur, indicated few changes in mangrove vegetation on the land from 2006 to 2017. “Satellite data of 2006 reveals the same status with few regrown small shrubs. Subsequent open source images of Google reveal the same status—of no mangroves with minor, small perennial scrubs. Analysis of satellite data from 2006 to 2017 reveals that during these years, no mangrove area is seen except for a small patch… In subsequent years, a building and approach roads are seen coming up. Otherwise, the area has only mudflats and some perennial shrubs…,” it said.
But Goenka said “voluminous material” proving the destruction of mangroves was concluded in an order of the Union environment ministry on April 5, 2013.