Maharashtra House panel charges slum authority with favouring developers

Sandeep A Ashar
The PAC s damning observations come at a time when the approval process under the SRA is already under the scanner.(Archive)

A legislative panel has charged the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) with diluting norms to pass on a benefit worth Rs 38 crore to developers in two slum redevelopment schemes in Mumbai.

Reigniting the debate over rampant irregularities in slum redevelopment, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the state legislature has questioned the decision of Chief Executive Officer of SRA of not deducting the mandatory 15 per cent recreational and amenity open plot area from the buildable area (floor space index) calculations in both the cases.

While Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had previously raised audit objections in this regard, the SRA had contested these. After hearing both sides, the PAC has sided with the former, rapping the SRA for passing on undue favours to developers at the cost of larger public interest.

The CAG, in a report submitted to the state legislature in March, 2018, had claimed that the decision of the CEO, SRA of not deducting mandatory 15 per cent recreational/amenity open plot from the total FSI calculations (in the two cases) had resulted in an undue gain of Rs 37.93 crore to the developers. Accepting the finding, the PAC has now recommended immediate action against all those responsible for the irregularity. It has also directed the state s housing department to submit a report on the action taken within three months while cautioning that steps be taken to ensure that such irregularities aren t repeated.

The PAC s damning observations come at a time when the approval process under the SRA is already under the scanner. The Chief Minister himself has ordered a probe into approvals granted in 33 cases by former SRA CEO Vishwas Patil just before retirement in 2017 after an internal inquiry had raised suspicion regarding these. But the probe report has been delayed. Senior government sources admitted that the BJP government is wary that the findings could stoke a fresh controversy.

Ironically, both the redevelopment schemes, which the PAC has objected to, are ongoing on large-sized government-owned plots on Mulund s LBS Marg. For construction on large-sized plots (more than 2,500 sq m), Mumbai s development control regulations mandate that 15 per cent of plot has to be set aside for recreational space or amenity open space. It further stipulated that this area has to be deducted from the FSI calculations.

But the CAG in its findings had observed that this was not done in the case of redevelopment of the Veer Sambhaji Nagar CHS and the Saphaldevi CHS Limited despite being applicable. It had observed that this had resulted in slum developers getting 11449 sq m of additional built-up space for the sale component in the two projects; an undue gain it had valued at Rs 37.93 crore. The PAC has confirmed this finding.

While objecting to the CAG s strictures, the SRA had earlier argued that the relaxation was granted to make the schemes viable and that such a relaxation was within the purview of the SRA s CEO. The agency had cited a high tenement density in the two projects to justify its decisions in this regard. But both the CAG and PAC have ruled that there was no merit in the justification.

The SRA rules are clear that such a relaxation can be granted only in cases where the existing slum tenement density is more than 500 per hectare. In the case of the two projects, SRA officials have admitted that the concerned tenement density was just 262 and 361 respectively, the PAC has observed in its findings, which were submitted to the state legislature on June 28. Just as the SRA had also argued that the agency was provided tenements for the project affected people in these cases, the CAG had observed that it was to receive just eight such tenements, collectively admeasuring 240 sq m, as against the gain of 11449 sq m to the developer.

Echoing the CAG s viewpoint, the PAC had ruled that the benefit extended to the developers was far more when compared to the gains for the SRA.