The Mumbai shoreline is not the only stretch in Mumbai to be declared a bay by the state coastal authority, opening it further to construction. The entire Backbay area, extending from Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade to Girgaum Chowpatty, has also been classified as a bay based on a report by the National Hydrographic Institute in Dehradun.
The shift in nomenclature, effected earlier this year, could create a bonanza for builders in south Mumbai in the months ahead. The state urban development department and the BMC are already grappling with the prospect of seeing large parts of Mumbai’s coastline open up to rampant construction due to the process of redefinition.
Till 2011, Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms had restricted construction activity up to 500m from the sea’s high tide line. But an amendment in that year reduced the minimum distance for construction activity near a bay from 500m to just 100m, while retaining the old protection for seafronts.
Taking advantage of the change, many Mumbai builders with prime plots near the coast rushed to the NHI and the Institute of Remote Sensing (IRS) in Chennai. The institutes reportedly certified several areas as bays and marked out the plots as being outside the 100m zone. The director of hydrography clarified that Backbay has been depicted as a bay on the institute’s official navigational charts.
Based on this classification, the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA), earlier this year, green-lighted construction on a 3.5-acre plot in Gamdevi, which earlier fell within the 500m CRZ protection line. The builder is rumoured to be developer Sudhakar Shetty. He could not be reached for comment despite several attempts by TOI.
The coastline of Backbay is a reversed-C-shaped region 4km in length, which includes the famed Chowpatty beach. Other landmarks along it are the office district of Nariman Point, which is actually an extension of Backbay Reclamation; the Queen’s Necklace; the Air India building; the Taraporewala Aquarium; the Marine Plaza Hotel; and Wilson College. To the northwest of the bay is the Malabar Hill promontory, which includes the wooded Governor’s House or Raj Bhavan compound. ”
The builder got a favourable mention in the minutes of the MCZMA, which put his plot close to Girgaum Chowpatty out of the purview of CRZ,” said a source. Debi Goenka of the Conservation Action Trust said the shorelines in Mumbai could technically be defined as bays.
“The problem is with the Union environment ministry, then headed by Jairam Ramesh, which allowed CRZ restrictions for bays to be reduced from 500m to 100m,” he said. Architect and housing activist P K Das warned any attempt to dilute CRZ will lead to “development anarchy”. Government sources alleged the MCZMA was selectively granting environmental clearances to some plots.
As reported by TOI on July 24, the urban development department and the BMC objected to the MCZMA clearing building projects by removing them from CRZ on the basis of the new bay definition. The state government stayed the coastal authority’s approvals. But R A Rajeev, the IAS officer who was removed as state environment secretary (he was chairman of MCZMA) last week, said the authority did not take any controversial decisions. “The MCZMA approved projects based on reports by the hydrographer and authorized agencies of the environment ministry.
The authority simply followed their observations on the demarcation of these plots,” he told TOI. “We did not pick and choose cases. Every project was scrutinized. Some were cleared by the Bombay high court,” said Rajeev, adding that there were 15 such cases in the pipeline.
A new coastal zone management plan (CZMP) is currently being prepared by IRS Chennai for Mumbai. Builders whose plots abut Backbay are waiting anxiously to free their plots from CRZ. “They are hoping the draft CZMP plan would be approved by the National Coastal Zone Management Authority and published accordingly, showing these areas as a bay,” said a source.
Courtesy : Nauzer Bharucha in TOI
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