Part of seashore now becomes govt land in South Mumbai

Sandeep Ashar

The foreshore land near Nepean Sea Road. Nirmal Harindran

A contentious proposal of treating a part of the Arabian Sea’s foreshore in the Nepean Sea Road area in South Mumbai as land, which was initiated during the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led regime in the state, has been granted a further go-ahead by the new Uddhav Thackeray-led government.

Official records obtained by The Indian Express show that Mumbai (city) Collector’s office, on January 9, 2020, issued a property card, labelling the foreshore portion as land and providing a cadastral number to it. A slum pocket that measures about 25,686 sq ft and comprises over 100 shanties exists on the portion in question.

The contentious move, however, has invited criticism from the local residents association — the Darabsha Lane Residents Association — of which Union Minister of Railways and Commerce Piyush Goyal is also a member.

On Thursday, the local residents association, in an official letter to Thackeray, demanded the reversal of the move. The association’s official communication to Thackeray states, “The move is blatantly against rules, environment and safety. We urge and request you to investigate the matter and immediately cancel the cadastral survey number (assigned to the portion), and also any other proposals where builders are trying to develop the foreshore lane.” Sources confirmed that following the objection raised by the association, the Chief Minister’s Office has now asked Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta to examine the matter.

Interestingly, on Thursday itself, the beneficiary slum society, the Shivaji Nagar Sahakari Grihanirman Sanstha (proposed), which has been pushing for in-situ redevelopment on the unauthorisedly reclaimed land, also wrote to the CMO, thanking him for “resolving their long pending issue”.

While Mumbai’s coastal zone management plan, sanctioned by the Centre on August 16, 2018, reportedly shows the portion in question as being situated in the inter-tidal zone, official records, obtained under the Right to Information Act, show that Thackeray’s predecessor Fadnavis had first granted an in principle approval to the revenue department's proposal in this regard on July 15, 2019. The proposal was to treat the foreshore portion on the seaward side of the High Tide Line as revenue land. The Union Environment Ministry had previously placed the foreshore portion in the ecologically sensitive coastal regulation zone-IB, where no construction or development can be undertaken with the exception of foreshore facilities like ports, harbours and jetties among others, but on Thursday, DLPL Infrastructure LLP's designated partner Rajesh Jain, which has already approached the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) for the slum's redevelopment, when reached for comment, contended that the plot was situated in the less restrictive CRZ-II where development is permissible.

Fadnavis, when contacted by the newspaper at that time, had said, "The government (his government) has only given in-principle approval to survey the foreshore land and to give cadastral survey number to the land parcel determined as a result of the survey. The government letter to the Mumbai Collector in this regard is limited to this in-principle approval only. The developability of the land parcel shall be subject to CRZ laws and Mumbai’s development regulations. A NOC from the environment department had been obtained before giving the in-principle approval. There is no illegality or favouritism done.” Incidentally while the state's Environment department had imposed a rider that no construction or development would be permissible on the land, no such condition has been incorporated in the final approval. Mumbai Collector Rajeev Nivatkar, when contacted, said, "We are examining the case."

The office of Maharashtra’s Settlement Commissioner — which oversees land measurements and surveys — had earlier recorded on the file that “when the lands in Mumbai were surveyed, the portion in question was under water.

The developer had first submitted a slum redevelopment scheme to the SRA in 2011, but it had not progressed further as the land survey number had not been given. In other words, the portion had not been labelled as revenue land.

Jain, meanwhile, argued that the slum dwellers were residing on the property for the last 30/40 years, even as an October 17, 2018, report from the Settlement Commissioner’s office indicated that the slums had cropped up after illegal reclamation. Kishor Tavrej, the then Deputy Director (Land Records), wrote, “The slum exists along the shore. When the lands in Mumbai were surveyed, the portion was found to be under water. The slum has clearly come up on the portion later.” Jain, meanwhile, argued that the Mumbai municipality has also been collecting rents from the slum dwellers, and that various civic amenities, including public toilets, already exist on the land.

The environment department, too, has said that the land in question was a foreshore. It has reasoned that under CRZ regulation, no development or construction was possible. Documents also show that the matter was referred to the government after the Mumbai Collector's office had pointed out that there was no policy for surveying and granting revenue land status to foreshores.

Officials, meanwhile, are concerned that the move could expose the entire Konkan coastline to a fresh wave of construction activity. Mumbai alone has several such foreshore lands. Incidentally, before Fadnavis's in-principal nod, the Settlement Commissioner’s office, in an official communication, had cautioned the state over the broader implications of the move. Tavrej, in his report, stated, “It is felt that the government should take a conscious decision in this regard, considering that similar demands could be raised in future as well. It should examine the impact (of the move) on the shoreline, the coastal environment, and the CRZ.” Some officials say that the move sets a precedent since it amounts to recognising unauthorised reclamation.

But Jain argued that even in the past there had been incidents when foreshore portions, which were already occupied, were given land numbers. The state's Revenue department, too, has argued on the file that the state-run Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation had also been allotted a foreshore portion after tagging it as land in 2016, but the reclamation in that case had been officially undertaken by the government itself. The department has also cited another case of allotment in Worli in 2012.

While claiming that in the past the SRA had even approved projects on portions without insisting on the cadastral survey (CS) number, Jain also claimed that the government had similarly surveyed slum portions of other reclaimed foreshore portions and given these CS numbers as well.