How BMC completely lost the plot: Wadias Demand Land Back

The BMC is on the verge of losing a 40-acre parcel of land worth Rs 1,300 crore in Aarey Colony. The city corporation obtained the tract from the FE Dinshaw Trust in 1972 and reserved it in 1993 to provide housing to those who do not own a home in the city. The municipal corporation sat idle on the plot for 21 years, failing to formally acquire it or compensate the Trust, which is run by the Wadias, who have moved the Bombay High Court, asking that the land be returned to them.

Article by By Yogesh Sadhwani & Bapu Deedwania, Mumbai Mirror

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The tract, which is near Pathanwadi on the Western Express Highway, can accommodate over 8,000 houses of 400 square feet each.

Despite the BMC having obtained rights to use the 40 acres to expand Aarey Colony in 1993 as part of its development plan for the city, the plot remained vacant, with the city corporation displaying no signs of launching the acquisition process.

The land acquisition officer is required to verify documents of ownership, issue anotice stating that the land will be procured, agree upon compensation and pay the owners, all in the space of 10 years. If BMC fails to adhere to this process, the owner may demand that it buys the land at market rate. Such an offer is valid for a year, after which the ownership reverts to the titleholder.

The trust run by the Wadias – Nusli, Maureen, Ness and Jehangir – wrote to the BMC in 2011, demanding that a decision be taken: return the land, acquire it after paying adequate compensation or declare it de-reserved. Two years later, in May 2013, with no sign of progress, the Trust dispatched a final warning to BMC stating that as per prevailing law, as the corporation had failed to acquire the plot 10 years after it was reserved, it’s ownership had to revert to the Wadias. With no response forthcoming, the Dinshaw Trust approached HC. The case is expected to come up for hearing on September 29.

Mumbai Mirror made repeated attempts to elicit a response from the BMC administration, but to no avail. Members of the Trust too begged off questions about the case.

Originally, the Trust owned 587 acres of land in Aarey Colony, of which the BMC expressed an interest to obtain 40 for expansion, in 1974. It was agreed that the Trust would receive Rs 20 per square meter.

In 1984, the Trust was told that the acquisition would be held in abeyance until such time that the BMC’s development plan for the city was finalised. In 1993, this strategy was announced, in which use of the 40-acre parcel was changed from “expansion of Aarey Colony” to “housing for dishoused” – the state defines the “dishoused” as those who do not own a home in the city. Following this declaration, the Trust sent an official communication asking that the acquisition process be hastened. According to their petition, the BMC did not respond.

During this time, the city collector’s office too pressured the corporation to acquire the plot: by way of a July 2000 letter from SV Aaver, the additional collector.

In 2009, VP Shah, general manager of FE Dinshaw Trust wrote to the corporation stating, “You will appreciate that we have handed over the possession of the land to the BMC as far back as 22 March 1974, without any payment whatsoever, in spite of promises often made by the officers of the BMC… You are requested to look into the matter and let us know how the matter of compensation/TDR benefits [Transfer of Development Rights] payable to us may be resolved.”

Such proposals are first brought before the BMC’s improvements committee, but Mohsin Haider, a member of the panel told Mumbai Mirror he was unaware of the Aarey Colony plan. “I am surprised that the purchase notice of the plot has not been brought before us,” he said. “We will ask for an inquiry as to why did the administration in BMC let go of such an important and large chunk of land.”

Meanwhile, prominent housing activist and architect PK Das said that the BMC had lost several plots in a similar manner, adding to the housing crunch in Mumbai.

“No government has ever taken the initiative to promote affordable housing in this city,” he charged. “If anything they have worked in favour of private agencies and developers who walk away with these plots.”