Govt takes no action on builders holding on to 191 state flats

Government dithering in acting against 23 developers and landlords who haven't yet surrendered to it, the due share of flats built on land bound by the Urban Land Ceiling Act

After the Congress-led state government made a show of rushing to clear the files pertaining to public interest pending for action, here’s a glaring example of its torpor. Two years later, it hasn’t taken any action against 23 developers who haven’t yet handed over flats under the Urban Land Ceiling And Regulation Act (Ulcra) to the state. There are a total of 191 such flats.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan

The file that makes a bid that the government should act against this violation is gathering dust at the chief minister’s office. In fact, such is the government’s alacrity that it took it a year and a half just to part with the names of the developers and the dwellings in question after questions were raised in the legislative council (see box: Slow motion (in)action). “The 23 developers who have not bothered to hand over the flats, completed the housing projects on land that falls under the Ulcra a few years ago. But, they have either sold them to third parties or have refused to surrender them,” sources in the know said.

Survey conducted
When the state noticed the breach, the office of the additional collector of Ulcra for Mumbai conducted a survey, and a proposal to initiate action was forwarded to the state urban development department, which is headed by the chief minister. And while the state decided to act against erring parties, there was inordinate delay in registering cases against them.

So, the government decided to appoint a committee headed by the then principal secretary T C Benjamin to find out if action was delayed at any level. The report submitted by him, however, is languishing at Mantralaya since 2012, sources say. Incidentally, a new file had to be reconstructed when three floors of Mantralaya were gutted in a fire breakout in June 2012.

Delay in action
About the delay in timely action, Leader of Opposition Tawade said it was wrong to say that the CM was against the builders lobby. In fact, he is protecting the builders who have refused to part with the legitimate state share. Despite reminders, the state has failed to take any action against developers, he said.

Efforts to elicit a response from Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan failed, despite repeated phone calls to his official residence Varsha and text messages to his private secretary. However, affordable housing schemes sanctioned prior to Ulcra’s revocation are still bound by its provisions, which stipulate that the landlord or the project developer give the government 10 per cent of the total number of flats they construct on land that attracts the act’s provisions.

To unlock prime pieces of land from the clutches of the Ulcra, a number of landlords, or developers appointed by them as power of attorney, used provisions of the act that allow them to develop this land for mass housing projects for the needy, and surrender a tenth of the units to the state in return.

On such land, only houses with an area of 80 sq m or 40 sq m can be constructed. The 10 per cent houses surrendered to the government are distributed under the chief minister’s discretionary quota to persons of repute, such as artists, freedom fighters, sportspersons, public representatives and media persons, and those who are in dire need of homes.

The Ulcra clause
The Urban Land Ceiling And Regulation Act (Ulcra) is a controversial law repealed six years ago. It fixes a ceiling on the vacant land that a party can hold in urban areas, with a view to prevent land hoarding in urban agglomerations. Land in excess is required to be surrendered to the state, so it can be used for affordable housing projects.

Slow motion (in)action
During the budget session of state legislature in April 2012, the then leader of opposition Vinod Tawade and three BJP members raised the question about pending action against erring developers in the state legislative council. The then minister of state for urban development, Bhaskar Jadhav (NCP), assured the house that the government would table the details of the developers and the flats yet to be surrendered. Accordingly, it was tabled in December 2013, but it bore no mention of any action.

Yet to take control
The state is yet to get possession of 191 flats under the Urban Land Ceiling And Regulation Act (Ulcra) located in prime suburban areas such as Versova, Oshiwara, Andheri and Powai, along with Malad, Borivli and Dahisar. The details given to the legislators say that of the 255 flats that were to be handed over to the government, only 64 have been surrendered so far.

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