Citizens crusade to change coastal regulation laws in Mumbai
MUMBAI: Every time the wealthy residents of skyscrapers dotting south Mumbai look out of their windows, they see dilapidated old buildings, narrow lanes and unhygienic conditions in which tens of thousands of people eke out an existence.
This unsightly island of squalor amidst the glitter of the rich and famous comprises the C and D Municipal Wards of south Mumbai. It is a square-shaped neighbourhood, measuring around 3.5 km in length and in breadth, where 80- to 120-year-old buildings face the threat of collapse, especially during monsoon.
While all areas around are being developed or re-developed at a frenetic pace, the C and D wards are rendered "untouchable". That is because they come under the stringent Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)-II norms, prohibiting any kind of construction activity within 500 metres of the high tide mark of the Arabian Sea.
Despite the dirt and the danger, the real estate of the area commands a premium price - ranging from Rs.20,000-Rs.40,000 per sq foot, said Rajiv Rele, a chartered accountant by profession.
The locals have decided not to take things lying down. In an unprecedented mass signature campaign, over 20,000 residents from the area petitioned the union government to relax the CRZ-II norms and "save" their lives by ushering in development and new constructions there.
"The petition was handed over to Minister of State for Environment Namo Narain Meena in New Delhi last Friday," Mayank Gandhi, secretary of Remaking of Mumbai Federation (RoMF) said.
In 20 days, the RoMF, Citizens Forum for C Ward Development (CFCD), the Old Buildings Landlords Welfare Association (OBLWA) and the Federation of Associations of Maharashtra (FAM), collected over 20,000 signatures from there.
Gandhi said there are over 1,100 old legal buildings, constructed before 1940, in the C and D Wards of south Mumbai, which is a small strip of land surrounded by the Arabian Sea in the east and the west. The area comprises Mumbai's diamond and jewellery hubs, housing the famous Zaveri Bazaar and the Pancharatna Buildings. It has been home to some Maharashtrians - the original Mumbaikars - for over 150 years. The crusade goes beyond the two specified wards, according to RoMF chairman Lalit Gandhi.
"The mission is to save the lives of over two million people living in the old and dilapidated buildings, mostly in south Mumbai, including the worst-hit 62,000 people in the C and D wards," he said.
According to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), in the past 35 years there have been as many as 2,717 minor and major instances of old and dilapidated buildings in south Mumbai crashing down. Over 670 people were killed in these incidents.
After the mega-floods of July 26, 2005, 503 buildings in the south Mumbai area were declared "dangerous" and could collapse any time. For the current monsoon season, the MHADA has declared 79 buildings as dangerous.
The Opera House constituency's Shiv Sena legislator Arvind Nerkar said the CRZ policy was being applied haphazardly and selectively, favouring influential people at the cost of commoners.
"CRZ, now renamed the Coastal Management Zone (CMZ), is playing havoc with the lives of people. We have demanded that it should not be applicable to areas where generations of people have been living in legal buildings," Nerkar said.
Nerkar, whose constituency has 950 such buildings, said if the Maharashtra government was serious about all-round development of the city, these areas must be granted additional concessions to enable faster development.
While the city and state public repair boards pick up buildings selectively for urgent repairs, the rest of the population lives in fear, particularly during monsoons, that their structures may collapse, he added.
Gandhi said the south Mumbai Lok Sabha representative Milind Deora and his father, union Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, are also "very sympathetic to the cause of their constituents, but helpless in the face of the CRZ norms".
The crusade has the support of over 50 associations and business groups, several NGOs and luminaries like former chief justice P.N. Bhagwati, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, former city municipal commissioner Girish Gokhale, former sheriff Nana Chudasama and Rajya Sabha member Y.P. Trivedi.