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Opinion No easy solutions to the problems Mumbai Port Trust faces
Moneycontrol.com  |  February 14, 2019

Anuj Puri

The blame-game between all parties concerned will only ruin the realty prospects of land which could have otherwise been utilised to rejuvenate a city that needs serious affordable housing infusion.

 

One can arguably say that the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) is currently one of the largest landowners in the otherwise land-starved financial capital of India. The trust owns nearly 1,900 acres of commercially useable prime land in south and south-central Mumbai along the sea-facing eastern coast. If put to good use, this large tract of land can help considerably solve the city’s immense housing shortage.

 

Initially either oblivious or indifferent to its real worth, the port authorities have now realised that they sit on a veritable goldmine that can fetch massive capital. However, it is not as easy as it may appear since many are now trying to capitalise on this precious land.

 

Some existing lessees are refusing to vacate the leased premises — even post expiry of their lease period of 100 years — or even allow the rentals to be hiked to match the current market rates. Others are engaged in long-drawn court cases commissioned by either parties.

 

Either way, it is a fact that prime land in the heart of Mumbai is lying unused to its best potential, despite the industry constantly harping on the housing shortage in the city’s heartland.

 

Complex problems

 

The land of MbPT, a central government facility under the Union Ministry of Shipping, is increasingly appearing on the radar of the state government or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for affordable housing. After all, it’s a prime parcel of land. How far the State’s plans will be implemented even if they do get a share of the land is another big question.

 

Nevertheless, in 2018, seeing the commercial viability of the land, the port trust refused to relinquish a portion of its precious land on the eastern waterfront to the BMC. Instead, it planned to turn the land into a commercial development with a sea terminal, water tourism, central business and finance districts, hotels, business offices etc — leaving a mere 10-11% of land for affordable housing.

 

Paradoxically, if we consider the rejuvenation/development of port cities in developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, a major emphasis has been given to affordable housing.

 

The authorities’ refusal to give away land for affordable housing also flies in the face of their assurances to the BMC during the formulation of the Mumbai Development Plan 2034. The result is that just like the earlier mill lands being converted into prime residential and commercial hubs for the limited few, the port land will also see a similar fate — if and when the problems surrounding it are resolved.

 

To compound matters, the MbPT does not have a concrete plan to execute its development propaganda. In addition to that, the implementation itself would pose a major challenge.

 

Besides, the issue is far more complex than is immediately evident. The tenants who are refusing to vacate pose a serious challenge. Both parties are embroiled in innumerable court cases that will take years to be sorted out. As an added ‘inconvenience’, the Indian Tenancy Act is largely skewed in favour of tenants.

 

Even if the port wins most of the cases in its favour, the real challenge for implementation of its development will be funding.

 

As it is, the prevailing funding crisis in the realty sector has left builders and other real estate stakeholders in dire straits. If we take the case of Dharavi, in Mumbai, it is evident that despite all good intentions, the current cash crunch with developers has prevented even the ‘big boys’ from stepping forward and take up the challenge of building this mega project, which requires massive funds.

 

No visible solution

 

It would be difficult to suggest any single ‘concrete’ solution to the tremendous challenge that the MbPT faces. The blame-game between all parties concerned will only ruin the realty prospects of land which could have otherwise been utilised to rejuvenate a city that needs serious affordable housing infusion.

 

The recent relaxation in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2018, which permits real estate activities up to 50 meters of the high tide line provides a respite to the MbPT. This essentially means that a lot of their land within the CRZ wherein no real estate activity was permitted has opened up.

 

On one hand, there are tenants irked by the port authorities, and on the other authorities that claim they are being deprived of their right to land ownership.

 

However, taking a few steps back, one can only say that for Mumbai to reap the real benefits, there has to be an all-inclusive plan wherein all real estate stakeholders get to some share of the benefits.

 

(Anuj Puri is chairman, ANAROCK Property Consultants. Views are personal)