Maharashtra to lift construction curbs in eco-sensitive Gorai-Manori belt

Mumbai, Dec 2 (NIE): Curbs on construction activity in the eco-sensitive Gorai-Manori belt in Mumbai are set to be lifted. Despite resistance from local villagers, the Maharashtra government has decided to go ahead with its proposal to modify the development control regulations in the green belt to allow additional construction rights for tourism-related activity.

While the modification has been proposed for expansion of activities of the Vipassana Global Foundation running the Global Vipassana Pagoda on a 16-acre plot in Gorai, local villagers fear it would end up unlocking more green areas for commercial activities in future.

Last October, the Chief Minister-led Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), then the Special Planning Agency (SPA) for the belt, had sanctioned the modification proposal. The minutes of the meeting, presided over by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, show that the MMRDA had drawn up the proposal “following a request made by the Foundation to the CM.” A senior official said the state government, which wants to “promote tourism” in the region, too, was in its favour. The minutes show that both the chief minister and Housing Minister Prakash Mehta, backed the proposal. In fact, Fadnavis had even acceded to a similar request made for Uttan’s National Law University, and directed officials to draft a separate guideline for the “development of social, cultural, education, tourism, and other allied activities” in the region.

But later, when public suggestions and objections were sought, community organisations such as the Dharavi Beth Bachao Samiti — a representative outfit for seven villages in the belt — had strongly objected to the move, with local villagers fearing that the additional construction rights would be used to build hotels and other commercial structures, causing damage to the eco-sensitive belt.

The MMRDA’s proposal is for amending the regulations for sanctioning three times more buildable space (from 0.3 FSI to 1 FSI) to the Foundation. Nayan Shah, Chairman, Vipassana Global Foundation, said, “Plans are to construct a museum, a hostel for visitors, residential quarters for employees, a new multilingual meditation hall, an art facility, a library, an information technology centre, and the Vipassana Research Institute for courses on Pali studies and Buddha’s teachings.”

While the Foundation has so far built facilities on 31,318 sq-metre portion of the plot, the plan is for construction on an additional 32,000 sq-metre built-up space. Shah justified the expansion, saying, “While the facility currently accounts for 9 lakh tourists annually, we are anticipating this to grow manifold in the years to come. It is necessary to upgrade the infrastructure to cater to the growing number of visitors.” Shah also said that a “special dispensation” was being sought only for the facility. Lourdes D’souza, Secretary, Dharavi Beth Bachao Samiti, said, “We will oppose any such plan. We fear this is part of a bigger gameplan to unlock eco-sensitive areas in the region for commercial purposes. It will uproot the lives of the local fishing community.”

In March this year, when the governance of the belt was handed over to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the locals had breathed a sigh of relief but the CM-led Urban Development department has revived the proposal again, confirmed sources. Citing the MMRDA’s sanction for the proposal, the department has now taken up the modification exercise. The UD’s town planning division is in favour of the proposal. Confirming this, a source said, “We’ve sought the BMC’s remarks over the modification.” Incidentally, the BMC’s new development plan has identified all eco-sensitive areas as “natural” areas, where construction activity is barred. But civic officials pointed out that the Gorai-Uttan belt was not a part of the planning process of the development plan.

The plan is to sanction additional construction rights on the payment of a premium. Restrictions on the height of a building imposed by current regulations are also set to be lifted. Although the Foundation had also sought a waiver from premium, government sources said this was not being considered for now. In the past, the Foundation has used the government’s policy for incentivising tourism development activities in no-development zones for additional construction.

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Title : Maharashtra to lift construction curbs in eco-sensitive Gorai-Manori belt


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