Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has dismissed Shiv Sena objections to the development of the city’s salt pan lands, saying only 20 per cent of the estimated 1,800 acres of salt pan land will be utilised for affordable housing.
Dismissing the Sena’s criticism that the government was planning to open up salt pan land for unbridled development while disregarding environmental concerns, Mr. Fadnavis told The Hindu in an interview: “Many people make comments without understanding issues. We are preparing a master plan for salt pan land. We are going to protect natural areas, Coastal Regulatory Zone areas and mangroves. After that, what remains as buildable land will be used for affordable housing, which, I believe, will not be more than 20 per cent of salt pan land.”
He added, “Therefore, by actually making a master plan, we are going to protect salt pan land. In a city like Mumbai, 63 per cent of land is non-buildable. If you want to create affordable housing in Mumbai, then unless you sustainably open up available land, you can’t do it.”
Shiv Sena legislator and former Mumbai Mayor Sunil Prabhu had written to Mr. Fadnavis earlier this week, urging him to not allow exploitation of salt pans by the land mafia. He argued that salt pans and mangroves form a natural protective cover around Mumbai, and tampering with it could affect the city environmentally. He suggested the government create low-cost housing through redevelopment of slums and old buildings.
On Thursday, Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray also objected to the “monetisation” of Mumbai’s land disregarding dangers of global warming and environmental destruction. “Mumbai is a unique city on the world map. Probably the only city to have such a large population coexist with such rich biodiversity including forests, salt pan lands rich with salt and minerals, beaches on one coast and a dockyard on the other, all within its city limits, even as its skyline gets taller with rapid urbanisation. And a state government keen to monetise it all! What will “monetising” Mumbai’s open spaces bring?” he wrote on a news channel blog.
His blog said, “The Centre and State governments are actively considering opening up of salt pan lands for housing. Salt pan lands —flat expanses — have traditionally been no-development zones and massive open spaces without any construction. Their use by builders, marketed as "affordable housing" (one wonders affordable for whom), would only destroy the ecological balance that this space maintains for our coastlines.”
Mr. Thackeray compared Mr. Fadnavis’s plan to open up salt pans for construction to the Vilasrao Deshmukh government’s attempt in 2007 to free up land for development. “In 2007, large areas of land were freed for builders by repealing the Urban Land Ceiling Act. It was said that affordable housing would be created and Mumbai would get a revenue of Rs. 2,000 crores. Not a single affordable house was made, not a single penny came to Mumbai,” he wrote.
He said the land size being opened up for “monetisation” was 12,000 acres, which was thrice that of Mumbai’s mill lands, eight times the Marine Drive promenade, and can create “50 Oval Maidans”.
“Does an open space as a promenade without any commercial activity or without it being owned by builders have no value? Can’t the entire land be made into a simple, beautiful green tract of land that enables Mumbaikars to see the sun rise?” he asked in the blog, while alleging the government was in the process of designating the Arabian Sea on the city’s east coast as a ‘creek’ to open up the land for development.
Referring to the Sena’s objections in the past to the use of forest land in Aarey Colony for the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro line, a seven-star private hotel at Mahalaxmi Racecourse and white LED lights on Marine Drive, Mr. Thackeray said, “But killing Mumbai environmentally in its first two years of being in government without understanding the city isn’t just going to [be] limited to Mumbai itself, it will affect our globe.”
Appealing to Mr. Fadnavis to take note of his concerns, he wrote, ”We cannot run a government that is so unaware of the global and local impact of climate change, and a rising sea level that will not be healed by hailing and retweeting international treaties and photo-ops, but by truly acting on it!”
CM dismisses Sena’s stand that govt. is planning development at the cost of