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MUMBAI-Bonanza for builders, industrialists ahead of elections Tribal lands, flood zones, forests now open for creation of integrated townships

December 04, 2018 06:51 AM

COURTESY MIRROR DEC 4

Bonanza for builders, industrialists ahead of elections
Tribal lands, flood zones, forests now open for creation of integrated townships
Environmentalists warn of ecological disaster as govt leaves construction in eco-sensitive zones to the discretion of sundry departments
| Makarand.Gadgil@timesgroup.com
TWEETS @makarandmirror1

The state has decided to open up buffer zones around national parks, tribal lands, private forest lands, and flood zones for development under its Integrated Township Policy, prompting warnings of ecological disaster from environmentalists.

The amended Integrated Township Policy — uploaded on the state government’s website on November 22 — gives a wide berth to any environmental concerns and leaves development in eco-sensitive zones to the discretion of sundry government departments bestowed with powers to issue no-objection certificates.


Environmentalists on Monday alleged that the amendments to the Integrated Township Policy seemed aimed at benefitting a clutch of industrialists. Two projects that will benefit because of the tweaked Integrated Township Policy are — the Navi Mumbai SEZ, which was recently allowed to be converted into an Integrated Industrial Township; and Raheja group-led project at Dindoshi. The Navi Mumbai project is led by Anand Jain, a former Reliance Industries head honcho.

There are 33 integrated township projects under development in the state -- 20 in the Pune Metropolitan Region, eight in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and five in Nagpur.

The new policy allows construction in buffer zones of national parks, where such land has not been declared a forest. It also allows tribal land to be used for such townships, provided the developer obtains permission under the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code.

The new policy says development of townships in zones earmarked for afforestation may also be allowed. All it will require is a no-objection certificate from the Forest Department. Similarly, development has been allowed on private forest land once the concerned collector changes its reservation.

Flood lines and flood zones – one of the most important measures to prevent floods as sea levels rise across the world – have also been opened for development under the new policy. Once again, all that a developer will need is a Water Resources Ministry clearance.

The government notification says that such eco-sensitive areas must not exceed 40 per cent of the total size of a township. The minimum area of township has been marked at 40 hectares.

The notification justifies the changes to the Integrated Township Policy, saying these are aimed at increasing supply of affordable homes and developing smart cities.

The government will charge 15 per cent premium for allowing construction in afforestation zone, hill top and hill slopes and10 per cent for other ecologically fragile zones. The premium will be calculated on the basis of ready reckoner rate of agricultural land in the area.

D Stalin, project director, Vanashakti, an NGO which works in the field of environment protection, said relaxing rules meant for protection of ecology has been the hallmark of this government. “These relaxations are aimed at helping vested interests. What can one expect in an election year other than relaxation of rules to benefit the real estate lobby,” he said.

Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust, said just the other day at a seminar Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis blamed drought in the state on climate change. “And here Fadnavis is changing rules to benefit builders and industrialists at the expense of environment,” he said.

Nitin Kareer, Principal Secretary, Urban Development Department, however, denied the charges and said due process was followed before amending the policy. “Suggestions and objections were called at divisional level. Many of the suggestions and objections received were included in the amended policy,” he said

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