Doubling building height on Marine Drive: BMC U-turn

Mumbai: In a complete U-turn, the BMC has said it will not enforce the decision of civic chief Ajoy Mehta, who had proposed to raise the heights of buildings in Marine Drive precinct. The civic body told the Bombay High Court recently it will not implement the proposal drafted by Mehta to almost double the heights of the buildings at the Marine Drive precinct.

The decision of Mehta had invited flak from the residents of south Mumbai. They had accordingly dragged Mehta as well as the Urban Development Department of the Maharashtra government to the Bombay High Court, challenging the proposed ‘special guidelines.’ The Federation of Churchgate Residents had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the high court seeking to quash the proposed ‘Special Guidelines for the Marine Drive Precinct.’

The residents termed the new guidelines as ‘arbitrary and illegal.’ They argued that the new set of guidelines would diminish and destroy the value and beauty of all the heritage structures situated in the Marine Drive Precinct. They further contended that the enforcement of these guidelines would directly impact Mumbai’s ‘nomination’ for the UNSECO heritage list. The civic body, in its defence filed its affidavit before a division bench of Justices Bhushan Gavai and Makarand Karnik, last month.

In its affidavit, the BMC stated that the proposed guidelines are the subject matter of a petition filed in the Supreme Court. It informed the bench that the guidelines have been already challenged in the apex court by some other residents. The civic body stated that it is not going to enforce the guidelines till the matter before the apex court is decided. “We have not acted upon the guidelines and have also not granted permission to any developer for redevelopment purposes,” the affidavit stated. Taking the affidavit on record, the bench said, “The statement made in the affidavit will be treated as an undertaking to this court. We accept it and believe that the corporation would act as per its affidavit.”

In their petition, the residents had claimed that Mehta finalised the guidelines without following orders of the HC as well as the provisions of the Development Control Regulations (DCR), 1991. “Instead of preparing final general guidelines for height of re-constructed buildings in excess of 24 metres in accordance with the DC regulations, 1991, the civic chief has prepared guidelines for special permission to re-development projects in Marine Drive precinct,” the plea stated.

According to the proposed new set of guidelines, Mehta has recommended raising the height of the front row buildings of Marine Drive, which fall in the Backbay zone, from the existing limit of 24 metres to 32 metres. The proposal also recommends increasing the height of the buildings behind the Backbay zone from 24 metres to 58 metres. Further, these guidelines, which were sent to UDD by Mehta in April last year, have proposed an increase in the height of buildings falling in the Gymkhana zone from 11–14 metres to 24 metres. Also, the buildings in the Chowpatty zone are proposed to be increased from 21 metres to 32 metres.

It may be noted that the entire issue of heights first came to light in 2012, when the BMC had permitted Vasant Sagar Properties Private Limited to construct a building on its property with a height of 58 metres. Even then, the civic body was dragged to the court, which had eventually quashed the permission. The court had in its judgment directed the civic body and also the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) to draft guidelines for regulating the heights of buildings in South Mumbai (A ward).

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