Friday, November 25, 2005

DCR58 - Part III - Wide Open Spaces

“Ek akela is shahar mein, raat mein aur dopahar mein, aabodaana dhoondta hai, aashiyana dhoondta hai” (Lyrics: Gulzar. Movie: “Gharonda”, 1977)

Today’s blog looks at BEAG’s case. BEAG’s web site is under construction and a few web searches revealed that they were founded in 1977 to address the need for the sustainable development of the Greater Mumbai region. They filed their Public Interest Litigation in Feb-05 challenging DCR58. Just a brief (and dumbed-down) recap that the case is about builders getting more land and the city getting less land, thanks to a change in the law.

Here are key points of the BEAG case:-

  • Wide open spaces: Counsel for BEAG starts off by citing various Supreme Court decisions highlighting the importance of open spaces in urban planning and development. Here’s a statistic – As per planning norms, Bombay needs 0.5 acre of open space per 1,000 people. Roughly translated, that means each Bombayite needs 22sq. ft of open space – or – about the area of your grave. That’s the ideal. And how much does Bombay have now? 0.03 acre (the area of your 21 inch TV). And how much do Delhi, New York and London have ? 3 to 4 acres.

  • Cracking the code: Post-amendment of DCR58, BMC sought clarification on whether "open lands" includes lands vacant after demolition. The Govt clarified that the term would exclude such lands, thus implying a big cut in land to be given to BMC and MHADA. Funnily enough, this clarification was never notified by the Govt.

  • Demolition men: "Demolition" was not defined in the original law, which is why the older DCR58 specifies the concept of lands vacant after demolition. Since the "demolition" concept was introduced later in 1994, BEAG contends that the amended 2001 version, should also include land available after demolition to uphold the spirit of the law.

  • Going, going, gone: While sanctioning the rehab scheme for NTC in 2002, the Govt, BIFR and IDBI were all of the view that "open land" includes original structure post-demolition. Even the Supreme Court, in its May-05 verdict ordered NTC to sell the land as per the BIFR order. Yet, NTC modified the scheme to increase the share for builders, got BMC approval and sold the five mills for a whopping Rs2,020crores (ref. the table in Part II below of my series).

  • A tale of two committees: In 1996, when the Govt appointed a committee to prepare an integrated development plan, at least it froze development work. In 2005, while the Govt did appoint a committee, it did not freeze any development.
  • Clearance cleared: None of the builders, who bought the mill lands, took the required clearance from Ministry of Environment and Forests prior to starting any development. And no, the BMC didn’t let this get in the way while granting permission for development work.

  • Resting the case: The BEAG rests its case on the note that the amended DCR58 is unconstitutional (i.e. against Articles 48A – The State shall endeavour to protect and improve environment and Article 21 –which protects right to life as fundamental right) and ultra vires (outside the scope/authority of) the MRTP.

The next part in my series will look at the defence put up by the respondents, which as I mentioned earlier includes the Bombay Municipality, State Govt., NTC, builders, mill-owners, etc.