Thursday, February 16, 2006

Who is Bhagwanji Rayani?

Mr. Rayani, has been associated with organisations like Janhit Manch and Forum for Fairness in Education. My googling on him showed that in the past he has fought on and filed numerous public interest litigations on issues like jam-packed trains, encroachments and hoardings and banners.

As compared to above, I’d assume his most important victory came in July-04 when the High Court restrained the BMC from allowing the use of TDR to construct buildings in prohibited corridors.

Hearings on this case began this week. Thanks to the Times of India for at least carrying news on this. Here are their articles as well as the links (from their e-paper, hence not very reliable)

Day 1, Monday 13th Feb

‘TDR policy puts strain on infrastructure’

Hearing On PIL Begins, Senior Counsel Asks HC To Intervene And Get Govt To Rethink


Mumbai: A war against the transfer of developmental rights (TDR) in the suburbs began in right earnest in the Bombay high court on Monday.

A bench of Justices F I Rebello and D Y Chandrachud began the final hearing of a PIL against the concept of such rights to builders that allows them unlimited freedom to build skywards in an area. TDR is usable only in the suburbs and not in the island city. It is a right to develop that is given in lieu of land surrendered to the state or civic body for public use such as roads, playgrounds or schools and even for slum rehabilitation projects.

Asking the court to intervene and get the government to rethink about a policy that is putting “ immense strain on the already inadequate infrastructure in Mumbai’’, senior counsel Aspi Chinoy argued at length against the concept of TDR. Chinoy, who is appearing as an amicus curiae (friend of court) in a petition filed by a city-based activist, said the TDR policy was “irrational’’, arbitrary

and showed a “non-application of mind’’ by the state. He said TDR should be linked to the “area’s carrying capacity’’ as at present there is no correlation between the amount of floor space index (FSI) released in the market and the carrying capacity of the suburb it is used in.

Taking the court through the details of the TDR history, Chinoy said in 1992, a ban was imposed on the use of the right in three corridors of the suburbs. The three stretches included those between the Western Express Highway and SV Road in the western suburbs and the LBS Marg and Eastern Express Highway in the central suburbs. In 1995, heritage TDR was allowed and then in 1997 slum TDR was allowed in these corridors.

The high court had earlier put a stay on the use of TDR in these corridors on a PIL filed by activist Bhagwanji Raiyani.

The stay continues. As a result of the TDR, the FSI use in the suburbs doubled to two. Chinoy said though TDR was not allowed in the island city because of the saturated population density, the density in the suburbs was much higher.

He said while the average population density in the island city was 48,581 per sq km, it was 51,275 per sq km in Bandra. “The average population density in the suburbs is 23,363.’’

He noted that the TDR was placing a huge burden on the existing infrastructure in places like Bandra, Khar, Santa Cruz and Kurla and called for an evaluation of infrastructure. Chinoy also gave details of the shortage faced by residents when it came to open spaces, water and sewerage. He said only 65% of the city was connected with sewerage and 85% of the sewage went untreated.

The state in its reply has opposed the plea for a rethink on the TDR issue and denied there was a need to evaluate the carrying capacity of the suburbs. It said due to paucity of funds, TDR was an effective means of ensuring that land needed for public use was acquired. The hearing will continue on Tuesday.

Day 2, Tuesday 14th Feb

Reframe TDR policy, activist tells court


Mumbai: Why hasn’t the BMC used the funds generated from condoning deficiency in car parking and compulsory open spaces in suburban buildings to upgrade infrastructure? This simple yet hard-hitting question was asked by activist Bhagwanji Raiyani who has filed a PIL before the Bombay high court to challenge the state’s policy on the transfer of developmental rights (TDR) in Mumbai.

On the second day of the final hearing of the PIL, Raiyani and senior counsel Aspi Chinoy—who is appearing as amicus curaie (friend of the court)—said there was a need to reframe the TDR policy with an emphasis on the infrastructural requirements.

Noting that “discretion has been traded in the name of premium’’ by successive civic heads, Raiyani said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) must have collected crores of money by relaxing the laws on open spaces during building development, but has not accounted for its use. He added that the civic administration should have used the funds to upgrade infrastructure. As an example, he cited how the roads in Juhu were being blocked by indiscriminate parking. “If a truck arrives at night outside my house in Juhu, it will not be able to enter the road,’’ he told the court. The road is effectively 17 feet wide as cars are parked on either side, he added.

Raiyani noted that the power to relax certain conditions before grant of permission to construct a building is discretionary in nature and so, the civic heads should have exercised it sparingly. He said the discretionary powers were frequently used and norms flouted. He also noted that though 25 feet should be kept for open spaces, most residential buildings have only eight feet.

Chinoy focussed on how the TDR policy was violating the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. The gist of his argument was that after depriving citizens of their basic needs like good roads and water supply, merely allowing builders to construct high rises in lieu of land surrendered for public use was not a solution

Day 3, Wednesday 15th Feb

‘TDR will up pressure on suburbs’

Mumbai: The hearing on the PIL challenging the policy on transfer of developmental rights (TDR) continued before the Bombay high court on Wednesday with arguments on how the skewed scheme was overloading the suburbs.

Builder and activist Bhagwanji Raiyani, the petitioner, argued that with the suburban population having jumped from 61 lakh in 1991 to 86 lakh in 2001, permission to keep adding floor space through use of TDR would result in a biased island city to suburb population ratio.

“Under the general rules, for ground plus four storeyed buildings no lifts are required. When slum TDR is used, the same relaxation is extended to buildings that have ground plus five storeys,’’ said Raiyani. He said it was “atrocious’’ to do so as it leads to “50% rehabilitated slumdwellers selling their new premises to return to the slums’’.

Raiyani said TDR can only be used in genuine cases, where builders have pulled down a dilapidated building, to rehouse occupants. “However, it is being used to appease the greed of a few who want new buildings to replace recently constructed ones which are still in good condition’’. State advocate general Ravi Kadam will begin his arguments on Thursday. TNN

Day4, Thursday 16th Feb

State defends TDR scheme. Mumbai:

The state has come out in defence of the Transfer of Developmental Rights policy which allows builders to exploit space in the suburbs irrespective of infrastructural inadequacies. Advocate-general Ravi Kadam on Thursday said before a bench of Justices F I Rebello and D Y Chandrachud, which is hearing a PIL against the excessive use of TDR, that the law was amended by complying with the due process. He refuted any non-application of mind by the state while allowing TDR in the suburbs in lieu of land surrendered for public use or for slum rehabilitation schemes. He said since the town planning process was “not a static’’ one, it could always be amended at a later date. Besides, he added, the use of the TDR policy had resulted in a huge amount of land becoming free for public use. TNN

Needless to say, TDR is the one reason why Bandra is in its present miserable state. But then who would say no to shifting out of his house for a couple of years if he has to come back to a bigger house? And that too if he’s getting fat sums of money for giving up his flat and the builder takes care of his rent for alternative accommodation? A nice win-win situation for everyone and perfect disaster for the city.

In any case there’s never any dearth of any media coverage on Bandra – it’s got film stars, pretty women, restaurants, pubs at almost every nook and corner. Not half as much media coverage has been spent on the sheer battle that daily life in Bandra has become. As Mr. Chinoy notes on Day 1, the average population in Bandra is 51,275 people per square kilometre – twice the average population in overall suburbs. And yes, I’ve stayed in Bandra all my life and have seen its steady fall and decline. After the mill-land case which is now in the Supreme Court, this is another case which will decide the fate of Bombay.