In the name of development and vertical structures, roads, housing schemes, Mangroves and Salt pans that are crucial to Mumbai’s ecology, safeguard the city against floods. On October 21, 2019, then the state’s chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, had announced several projects to woo voters. But one announcement that went under the radar was the opening up of Mumbai’s ecologically sensitive salt pans for the development of low-cost housing.
Mumbai has a total of 5,300 acres of salt pan lands and this entire area was marked as wetlands. In 2016, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) conducted a study and gave a report that only 25 acres of these 5,300 acres of salt pan land are developable, which is perennially land-starved, the salt pans are few of the remaining land parcels on which no development has happened so far. These land parcels have been under strict coastal regulation zone (CRZ) rules which restrict development. But with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having a strong majority at the centre was trying to change this.
The state, however, was supposed to make its laws for the use and development of salt pans, after it gave its consent to the Centre to put salt pans in the concurrent list in Schedule VII of the Constitution. Currently, all issues related to salt pans come under the Union commerce and industry ministry. But no such things happened till today, the governments are changed but not the fate of Mumbai or its ecological factors.
Maharashtra has nearly 13,000 acres of salt pans, with 5,300 acres in Mumbai, followed by around 2,000 acres in Vasai and 2,000 acres in Palghar. Of the 5,300 acres in Mumbai, the city’s Development Plan (DP) 2034 allows for 1,781 acres to be developed. However, it is not yet clear if the state will open up the entire 1,781 acres for construction, as a part of it may come under environmental regulations. For years, the state has been pushing to open up salt pans for housing projects, but the proposal has been stuck owing to contentious issues, such as the land-sharing formula between the Centre and the state and ongoing litigation.
The Maharashtra government welcomed the proposal to transfer the subject of ‘salt’ to the concurrent list in the Schedule VII of the constitution and has no objection to the same,” stated a letter issued by the revenue department, on behalf of the state government, on May 10, 2019. It was issued in response to a query raised by the joint secretary and acting salt commissioner, seeking the state’s views over incorporating salt pans in the concurrent list.
The state government is keen on unlocking these plots and provisions for the same were also made in the development plan 2034. The DP had earmarked 321 acres (130 hectares) of salt pans to be used for affordable housing. The ownership of salt pans has been contested between the Centre and state for more than three decades, with the last suggestion coming from the UPA-I government, to share the land on a 50:50 basis between the state and the Centre.
In 2017, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests revised the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 and excluded salt pans from wetlands, which means these tracts in Mumbai could be open for development. Following this, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) started resurrecting the city’s salt pans to study if it was feasible for building affordable housing.
A total of 3,355 hectares of salt pan lands are spread across MCGM in Dahisar, Goregaon, Mulund, Bhandup, Kanjurmarg, Nahur, Ghatkopar, Turbhe, Mandale, Chembur, Wadala and Anik. These lands, which were classified as salt pan lands and no development zones (NDZs) for decades are now open for new development is not only a threat to the ecology, but these sunk lands can be dangerous for human lives ahead.
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