Space Games

A PIL reveals the complex nature of Mumbai’s real estate market – where some get labelled encroachers while others are treated as legitimate developers.

By Geetha K. Wilson

“We used to live right there, man (pointing to slums in the far vicinity).  Now, it’s all business. India is at the center of the world now, bhai. And I… I am at the center… of the center.” -Slumdog Millionaire

Location: Hiranandani Gardens overlooking the sprawling slums, Powai.

Hiranandani Gardens owns the Powai skyline. Its pale sandalwood regal structures resembling neo-classical architecture majestically rise up to meet the sky. The boulevards are meticulously maintained and the buildings are fenced by tall walls, with entrances for parking lots. The security officers are on constant vigil. There are shops, malls, conference halls, special economic zones and international brand stores. The public bus services, autos and cars ply through the well laid, clean roads connecting it to the National Highway. At the far end, work is now underway at a frenzied pace to erect a few more apartment blocks now that the stay orders have been lifted following the Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed against Hiranandani Builders alleging a Rs 840 billion land scam. The stay orders have now been lifted.

This article lays out details about that dispute and offers varying viewpoints of the key players involved and explaining the land politics of this city, where land is more valued than molten gold.

“The developer was given 230 acres of land at Re 1 per hectare (40 paise per acre) way back in 1986 to create affordable housing for the middle class. Is Rs 20,000 per sq feet affordable?” – The PIL petitioner Kamlakar Motiram Satve against Hiranandani Developers

Hiranandani Gardens stand on 230 acres of land granted to them as a part of the tripartite agreement, dated 19 November 1986, executed by and between the State of Maharashtra, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and the developer (Hiranandani Developers). Under the agreement, the villages of Powai and Tirandaz (under the Powai Area Development Scheme) were leased to the developer for 80 years at the rate of Re1/- per hectare (ie.40 paise per acre). The agreement entitled Hiranandani Developers to build 1500 residential units not exceeding 80sq.m and another 1500 units not less than 40sq.m. Out of these 15 % were to be sold to the government at Rs.135/- per square feet to resell to the middle and higher middle-class buyers. The outcry over these constructions started when advertisements were put forth by the Developers announcing the selling of individual units– ranging from 180 sq. m to 457 sq. m – for prices as high as Rs 4 crores. PIL’s were filed against the developers which resulted in a ban on further construction in 2012. Along with the original petitioner Kamlakar Satve, Medha Patkar on behalf of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA) also filed a PIL against it in the same year.

“It is ironical that the Government of Maharashtra was kind enough to give 300 Acres of land to Hiranandani at the rate of 40 paisa per acre but has continued to evict and break the homes of basti dwellers,” says  Medha Patkar.

“Do you know how many families live here? Four thousand! These families give stable jobs to the people in the slums. While the construction was going on, do you know how many people were working there? She made the court impose the ban thousands of people lost their jobs. Has she done anything for them? Do you know how many people have made their livelihood out of us?” says Sudipta Lahiri, Senior Manager, Administration and Facilities, Hiranandani Group of Companies.

True enough, Phule Nagar Dumping Ground dwellers in Powai had been badly affected by the stay order. “I had worked for Hiranandani as an electrician and my wife was working there too. With the money from our jobs there, we could afford a place of our own here,” says 54-year-old Babu Gaykwada. The same was the case for the other households around.

“These people have not been returning the land to the government and have been paying paltry sums as rent.”

Roy Philip, an administrative officer at Hiranandani, chimes in, “What is this slum-slum thing that she is talking about? Has she ever looked into the problems with slums? Government builds permanent rehabilitation centers for them. They go there and stay there for some time so that they would get the place. Then they come back and stay in the same place where they were rehabilitated from. Then they give the permanent place for lease. By support to slum dwellers, one must actually help the people in dire need, not cunning exploiters. Hiranandani has constructed the Hiranandani Gardens complex and even the court mentions the development that the place has undergone. They are now giving tax to the government, not to mention jobs”.

Simpreet Singh, an activist associated with GBGBA asks, “What tax are you talking about? They were still paying the unrevised tax rates of 1986… what was it? Rs.15 or something. They got the land for Re1 per hectare. And how much are they selling the houses for? Rs 4 crores!” Filmmaker Faiza Khan, who in recent years has filmed several slum demolitions across the city, agrees and adds, “If the government is so keen to destroy the houses of the poor in Mumbai and declare their occupation of the land as illegal in order to give that land to developers, shouldn’t they apply the same standards for big developers who flout all the rules?”

GBGBA also accuses Hiranandani Developers in having a hand in revoking the Urban Land Ceiling Act. The Urban Land Ceiling Act of 1976 provided for “the imposition of a ceiling on vacant land in urban agglomerations, for the acquisition of such land in excess of the ceiling limit, to regulate the construction of buildings on such land and for matters connected therewith, with a view to prevent the concentration of urban land in the hands of a few persons.” This law was later repealed in 2007 because it ‘barred development on large tracks of land as the major infrastructure development projects had a major setback’. On the top of it, GBGBA maintains that a few influential people in the city have been granted leases over vast tracts of city land for years while the requests by the poor for small tracts of land on lease have been constantly turned down. “These people have not been returning the land to the government and have been paying paltry sums as rent,” says Simpreet Singh. A status report on Mumbai lands and leases in 2011 has been released by GBGBA. See Tables 1 and 2

Table 1: Status of Mumbai Lands in 2011 (GBGBA)

S. No. Name of Land holder Land in Possession
01. Godrej & Boycee 2500 acres
02. F.E Dinshaw Trust 800 acres
03. Bairamjee Jeejibhoy 600 acres
04. Essel World 650 acres
05. Amir Park & Amusements 300 acres
06. N K Bhesanim Trust 315 acres
07. K.J. Somaiya Trust 175 acres
08. Bhiwandiwala Hormasji 935 acres
09. Ghashiram Ramdaya 885 acres
10. Gaman India Ltd. 240 acres
11. Larsen & Toubro 165 acres
12. Mahindra & Mahindra 140 acres

Table 2:  Status of Mumbai Leases in 2011 (GBGBA)

Table 2

On the National Alliance of People’s movement website (http://napm-india.org/), Prerna Gaekwad, a GBGBA activist remarks, “Let the government use the land above ceiling available in Mumbai for implementing the right to housing. Our struggle against the builders will continue and we will continue to expose their corruption.” In a press statement, Hiranandani Developers maintain that they didn’t violate any restrictions – “The 15% of construction that has to be handed over to the government will be handed over. The restriction was to sell those at Rs.135/-, not the others.” This was later approved by the High Court; but the Court also pointed out that this was a complete and gross violation of the intent. The Court had also asked the developer to build another 1500 flats of 40 to 80 sq. m intended for low-income people.

While the victory of GBGBA  and the verdict to hand over the flats to the Government were applauded and welcomed by the Mumbaikars, a quick look at the rates of ‘Kingston’ Flats for rent on olx.com flash a monthly rent of Rs 35,000  for a 1-BHK and the same for ‘re-sale’ in 99acres.com lists for Rs 1.49 crore. Kingston flats are the first set of flats that Hiranandani had constructed and handed over to the Government in 1990. An RSS flag welcomes everyone in front of the Kingston Housing society. An inmate who had taken the apartment on lease says, “The politicians and government officials own the place. They rent it out and I have just taken it on lease from a government official.” These flats which government officials had got for Rs.135/- per square feet are rented and re-sold at exorbitant rates. For, a home in such a developed housing complex remains an unaffordable dream.

Cover picture courtesy Creative Commons.

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