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OpinionsMumbai’s affordable housing scheme is giving a big jolt to ecology

Mumbai’s affordable housing scheme is giving a big jolt to ecology


Alternative plans can be taken up without using slat pan land

By Arun Kumar Shrivastav

Mumbai is facing a severe housing crisis, with a growing population and a dire need for affordable homes. In the midst of this crisis lies approximately 5500 acres of salt pan land, the subject of intense debate between proponents of affordable housing and environmentalists concerned about the city's ecosystem. Environmentalists emphasize the significance of salt pan land for Mumbai's ecosystem, highlighting its role in flood protection and as a habitat for migratory birds. They assert that using this land for housing would jeopardize the delicate balance of the and its associated services.

Over the years, various governments have grappled with the idea of utilizing salt pan land for affordable housing. While the central government and local authorities have shown interest, the proposals have faced opposition from citizens, environmentalists, and even within the political sphere. The recent plan by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to develop salt pan land for public use has reignited this longstanding debate.

As per a report, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has directed state officials to explore the potential use of salt pan lands for public purposes. During a meeting, attended by state government and civic officials, as well as Union Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri via video conference, the Maharashtra Chief Minister emphasized the need to examine the viability of utilizing salt pan lands for public benefit without causing harm to the environment. A significant portion of approximately 5,500 acres of salt pan land fall under the non-development zone.

Spread across suburbs like Mulund, Kanjurmarg, Ghatkopar, Trombay, Mandle, Turbhe, Wadala, Malwani, and Dadar, salt pan land is a focal point in the Development Plan 2034 proposed by the BMC. Recent warnings from environmentalists about damage due to debris, garbage, and heavy rains highlight the urgency of addressing this issue responsibly.

The Indian Express on June 16, 2023, reported that the Mumbai Deputy Salt Commissioner's office is set to write to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in response to a request from the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) Slum Authority. On May 17, the Slum Authority formally approached the Salt Commissioner's office, expressing the need for salt pan lands to facilitate the construction of a rental housing scheme for ineligible slum dwellers.

Environmentalists argue that salt pans play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance of Mumbai. Acting as a buffer between the land and the sea, salt pans protect the city from high tide water. Moreover, these areas harbour rich biodiversity and aquatic life. They fear that any construction on salt pan land could lead to increased waterlogging, disrupt the natural flow of rainwater, and threaten the diverse ecosystem that depends on these areas.

In August 2023, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) announced the allocation of 4,082 flats in Mumbai, for which it had received an astonishing 1.2 lakh applications. With only 3.5% of the applicants securing accommodation, the news underscores the glaring demand-supply imbalance in the public housing sector within the vibrant metropolis.

As of June 2023, Thane, situated in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, recorded the highest number of unsold homes, totalling 1.07 lakh. Meanwhile, Mumbai experienced a marginal 3% decrease in unsold housing stocks, declining from 62,735 units to 60,911 units by the end of June 2023. This scenario underscores the challenges faced by both aspiring homeowners and the real estate sector.

The idea of using salt pan land for housing is not a recent one. It surfaced during the 2004-09 tenure of the Congress and NCP coalition government and gained traction in 2016 under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, aligning with the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. However, the proposal faced hurdles, including wetlands, mangroves, slum encroachments, and ownership disputes, leading to the stalling of any concrete plans.

While there has been a push from the ‘pro-builders' lobby to use salt pan land for affordable housing in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), the government's position has been inconsistent. Previous administrations have announced opposition to construction on salt pan land, but the current Eknath Shinde-Fadnavis government is yet to make a definitive decision on the matter.

The shortage of affordable housing in Mumbai is undeniably a pressing issue, but the use of salt pan land is not the only solution. There are alternative options, such as utilizing vacant government land, that should be explored. Besides, there is a need to decongest Mumbai by creating more satellite cities along the lines of Navi Mumbai.

(IPA Service)

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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