Redevelopment of building in Army buffer zone in Juhu stalled for years

Mumbai: For more than a decade now, residents living in a radius of 500 yards from the Juhu wireless transmission station have been demanding the redevelopment and the removal of restrictions obstructing their plans.

The residents have been repeatedly writing letters to the defence minister of India, trying to draw attention to their long-pending grievance as they are forced to live in rickety structures.

Several residents are now senior citizens and want the scrapping of the SRO 150 (statutory rules and orders issued by the ministry of defence) issued on June 19, 1976 and re-enforced in 2011, in the wake of the Adarsh scam.

Redevelopment of building in Army buffer zone in Juhu stalled for years

They have, in a last-ditch bid, written to the President of India, Ramnath Kovind, to intervene in the matter, since their pleas to the defence ministry have fallen on deaf ears.

Bhupendra Lakdawala, 72, a resident and chartered accountant, told The Free Press Journal said the need for such a buffer zone would have been understandable had this area been an army base where explosives were stored, but such is not the case here.

“The area is civilian and imposing the restriction is meaningless, since there is no security threat. Moreover, the existing Juhu wireless signalling station is not even operational, as the telecommunication sector has seen a major transformation over the years.

Now signalling is done through satellite, so the restriction imposed in 1976 has become automatically invalid. We are now in an era of satellite signals which are not hampered by the height of the structure, hence, the imposed restriction should be scrapped,” Lakdawala explained.

The residents are living in dangerous, dilapidated buildings in the vicinity of the signal station.

Similarly, Ashok Mehta, 71, who lives with his wife in Princeton building near Juhu Circle said, “Our building was built in 1978 and is now almost 42 years old. Since the terrace is above my flat, my bedroom has leakage issues. Despite repairs, the leakage problem remains, as the building has turned old. I am scared that this may have weakened the structure and it may collapse one day.

Top builders are keen to undertake redevelopment, since it is adjacent to the main road and the maximum floor space index (FSI) possible is four. But for want of clearance from the defence ministry, our building redevelopment plan is also in limbo. “

There are about 300 affected buildings, ground plus four-storied each, housing at least 13 families each. Interestingly, these buildings came up in 1978 and 1981, after the SRO 150 notification was issued by the government of India. These buildings are built on land leased from the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), for 99 years.

Surprisingly, only when the Adarsh building scam at Colaba cropped up in 2011 did the defence ministry impose a blanket ban, restricting redevelopment or new construction on land falling in the buffer zone.

Vidyut Shah, 71, resident of Radhika Co-Operative Housing Society, too expressed agony over the hurdle in redevelopment due to the defence restriction. He said, “I am living in a rickety structure, while several others had gone ahead with redevelopment before 2011; the imposition of the notification has forced them to live in far-off places like Virar, Malad, Nalasopra, Kalyan as construction is stalled midway. The builder is not being allowed to complete the project. The rents of people who vacated their houses, dreaming of new ones, are pending.”

Deep Tanna of Sai Developers, who undertook the Tara co-operative housing society redevelopment project, has been unable to proceed with work even after having commencement certificate (CC). Tanna said, “The project has been stalled for the past 12 years because of the objection of defence. There has been no progress since the building of the plinth. Now the project has become unviable, as we have been paying rents to tenants for so long.”

SRA project too affected

Not just the redevelopment of upscale buildings, the slum redevelopment project in the Mora village, situated behind the defence wireless transmission station too has been affected. Vijay Kadu, resident and chairman of the Mora Saibaba Co-operative Housing Society told this paper, “How long are we supposed to live in slums? Are we not allowed to live a life of dignity like others, where we too have toilet facilities in our house. The builder undertaking the Mora village slum redevelopment had obtained all the permissions. However, due to the No-Objection-Certificate from the defence ministry, the project is stalled.”

Presently the slum-dwellers are living in 12x15 area shanties, with a public toilet facility. When redevelopment is undertaken, they will get 304 sqft houses, with in-built toilets.

Notably, the then defence minister, the late Manohar Parrikar had issued a circular reducing the radius to 10 metres in 2016, in a major relief to the Juhu residents. However, Nirmala Sitharaman, his successor, revoked the orders in a letter to the Mumbai member of Parliament Gopal Shetty. In her letter, Sitharaman informed that the revision of the no-objection certificate (NOC) guidelines for building construction in the vicinity of defence was under examination and would be issued soon.

When contacted, the Mumbai defence public relations officer Mehul Karnik refused to comment on the matter, stating the matter was sub judice.

What is SRO 150 of June 1976

SRO 150— in the exercise of the powers conferred by section 3 of the works of Defence Act, 1903, it is hereby declared that land in the vicinity of the signal transmitting station at Juhu may be kept free from buildings and other obstructions. Provided that the said restrictions shall not apply to permanent constructions beyond the permissible height of 15.24 metres which have already been completed at the commencement of this notification.

Affected residents seeking relief from SC

A writ petition was filed in 2014 by the Provincial Housing and Property Ltd undertaking the Mora Village slum redevelopment project seeking permission to start the project stalled by the defence ministry. However, the Bombay High Court dismissed the petition on no merits, in a major setback to Juhu residents falling in the buffer zone. They have now moved the Supreme Court where the matter is pending.

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Free Press Journal