Develop, but at a bearable price

Develop, but at a bearable price

That development is imperative for India to grow isn’t being contested. However, for any developing country, the growth has to be in sync with integral variables that simply cannot be compromised. Variables such as environment or human rights which, in view of the high speed of development, become casualties. Also, in the game of numbers on which democracy rests, it’s the weakest — those with the least numbers, those with the softest voices, those with meagre means or those on the lower-most rungs of a social hierarchy — who pay the highest price.

In India, where a 7,517 km coastline provides livelihood for millions disunited by language, culture and political leanings, the newest Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ) notification, 2018, has sounded the death knell. The government’s latest offering to boost ‘development’ and bolster the entire ‘ease of doing business’ model, the latest CRZ notification has come through apparently without the mandatory consultations that precede the finalisation of any ‘draft’ notification.

The environment-conscious judiciary across the nation has been actively pulling up state bodies for failure to act. A case in point being the high court of Bombay at Goa, which has been coming down heavily on the state’s coastal village panchayats for structures built in violation of CRZ notification 1991. Till 2015, only 114 illegal structures had been demolished against a total of 6,983.

While the Goa government tries to regularise illegal structures which will now, arguably, fall within the ambit of the new legislation, it faces an impediment in the form of a Public Interest Litigation filed to challenge the notification before the high court.

Litigant Shetye insists that since the authorities didn’t grant a hearing to stakeholders and, concurrently, did not pass reasoned orders, it violated Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution. It has hence directly attacked the “fundamental rights of the citizens and litigants from Goa who fight the issues”.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, developers are enthralled with the prospects of getting floor space index (FSI) as high as up to three for the island city.

Politically, the easiest way to garner public support is to back any activity with ‘development’ and ‘public good’. What happens is that the surge of ultra-local sentiments almost always blur reason at least till it becomes too late to rectify.

In 2017, Goa Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam had pointed out that the CRZ limit needed to be revised so that the state would be able to carry out the string of coastal infrastructure projects that were being hampered. While the contention that the CRZ notification stalled infrastructure projects paved the way for the clearance of the notifications, it was the stark absence of consultations with stakeholders and the civil society, compounded by the speedy influx of developmental works undertaken by developers in and around Mumbai, that made the move look suspect and motivated.

NGO Vanashakti’s director Stalin D is all set to move court and petition against the notification which, he says, “is primarily a move to appease builders. It has been introduced to permit the destruction of coastal areas in Maharashtra, specifically in areas such as Palghar, Vasai, Mira-Bhayander, Virar, Uran, where the builders lobby has already begun construction on a war-footing despite the December 2018 notification not being made public even till the third week of January 2019. The idea is to open up all protected areas for development as elections draw near.”

Even a lot of South Mumbai’s pagdi residents, living in landlord-owned buildings covered by the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, and those in Cooperative Housing Societies have now begun holding urgent Special General Body Meetings to garner support from members to invite developers to re-develop their properties in view of the new, relaxed CRZ notifications which, along with the altered Mumbai Development Plan 2034, provides them new, bigger homes and profits to boot.

About 10 km away from Mumbai lies an environmentally-fragile Elephanta Island, which has recently obtained power supply after 70 years. And, along with power has arrived the change in its CRZ status last year to CRZ-II (Urban), swiftly escalating the socio-cultural status of its three villages. Now, the new CRZ Notification 2018 has the 1,200 islanders in a race to ‘develop’ the island with hotels and resorts all around the fragile borders of the island. They’re cutting the very branch they’re sitting on, but how does it matter? And, why not. After all, the law permits them to do so now.

With climate change affecting the world drastically, a developer lobby’s attempt to ‘develop’ India disproportionately while dodging laid-down norms could make the prospect of dealing with realty seem easy and lucrative. In the process, living in India with the risk of coastal floods, structural collapses and compromised quality of life will become difficult.

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