In Mumbai, only 16% of salt pan land can be developed

MUMBAI: Only a portion of the over 5,400 acres of salt pans in Mumbai can be built upon as most of it falls under the coastal regulation zone (CRZ), where construction is virtually prohibited. A 2010 Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority(MMRDA) report shows that only 16% of the city’s 5,430 acres can be developed.

Early this year, salt pan statistics were updated by a civic team appointed to revise Mumbai’s draft development plan. The committee, headed by former IAS officer Ramanath Jha, showed the city has 5,379 acres of salt pans, of which 4,316 acres fall under CRZ zones and forest land. While the MMRDA report said about 880 acres can be utilised for development, Jha’s team concluded that a little over 1,000 acres could be built upon.

The city’s sprawling salt pans are the last of the remaining open areas in this space-starved city even as the real estate industry looks to exploit the land for construction.

As part of its housing policy, the state government announced that it wants to utilise some tracts of salt pans for affordable housing. TOI had reported that the Centre decided to gradually shut down the Salt Commissioner’s Organisation, which controls over 61,000 acres across nine states, including over 13,000 acres in Maharashtra. However, it is in Mumbai where the salt pan land is seen as a potential real estate bonanza by builders.

The MMRDA report said 3,766 acres (69%) of salt land is “out of bounds” as it falls in the CRZ-I zone, where construction is prohibited.

BMC’s new development plan has proposed using 570 acres of salt pan land and tracts reserved for no-development zones for affordable housing. The civic administration wants to use the plots to create one million affordable homes in the city in the next 20 years.

Experts like geologist V Subramanayan had warned that the plots are unsuitable for reclamation as the soil in these mudflats has been weakened by continuous production of salt. Any construction will need deep foundations; bedrock will be available only at considerable depth. In Mumbai, salt pans are spread over Ghatkopar, Chembur, Trombay, Mandale, Turbhe, Anik, Wadala, Kanjurmarg, Bhandup, Nahur and Mulund in the eastern suburbs and Malwani, Dahisar, Mira-Bhayander and Virar in the western belt.

Close to 400 acres of salt pans may have been lost due to encroachments about four decades ago when sprawling residential colonies were built mainly in the eastern suburbs. These include residential enclaves such as Garodia Nagar in Ghatkopar, Chheda Nagar in Chembur, Bangur Nagar in Goregaon and Star Builder in Bhandup. A further 44 acres are encroached upon by slums, while 359 acres are either lost in litigation or have ownership disputes.

Another 483 acres were acquired by the state government to build the Eastern Express Highway, a sewage plant and a cemetery; and 187 acres were given to the central government to build staff quarters. Debi Goenka of the NGO Conservation Action Trust said all salt pan land in Mumbai falls under CRZ-1. “It is within the low tide line and high tide line, and is affected by tidal flows,” he said.

Credits ET Realty

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