Maharashtra open up farm land for affordable housing
The Maharashtra government has decided to allow residential constructions on farm lands in municipal corporations and councils with the conditions that the housing will be only for the economically weaker sections (EWS) of society and have a maximum floor space index (FSI) of 1.
Owners of farm plots agreeable to the conditions will be able to sidestep the process of getting their land converted from “agricultural” to “non-agricultural” (NA).
The government’s move is aimed at promoting affordable housing for the EWS under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY).
However, urban planners and environmentalists have raised serious concerns over the decision, which they feel paves the way for “concreting no-development zones”. The move will not only endanger “food security” in the long run but also put enormous pressure on infrastructure, civic services and the environment, they say. They also feel that the regional plan of districts will be rendered useless as it had not provided for roads and other services in farm lands, thus leading to haphazard development.
Officials from the state housing department, which issued a government resolution (GR) on Thursday, said the decision opens up vast tracks of land for promoting affordable housing in Maharashtra.
“If successful, this decision will keep the overall realty prices under control as supply will outstrip demand,” a top officer told TOI.
The officer said that allowing affordable housing schemes on farm land was just a small part of the GR. “The GR also spells out rules and regulations for six modules aimed at promoting EWS housing under PMAY, including offering 2.5 FSI for such schemes on existing residential lands which are owned either by the government or by private parties,” he said.
The officer said a series of restrictions have been listed to ensure that fly-by-night operators do not abuse the permission. “The FSI limit will be just
1. The size of tenements will be restricted as the flats are only for the poorer sections of society. We have introduced a marks-based system to verify if such constructions are permissible by taking into account the location of the farm plot from existing roads and other services. It is not as if we are allowing developers to exploit farm land without verifying infrastructural needs,” he said.
Another senior officer argued that even under current rules, residential constructions are allowed on farm lands that are within 1,500 metres of ‘gaothan’ areas, in cases where NA permission is sought and also in the case of townships measuring 100 acres or more. The current rules also allow use of farm lands for non-residential purposes such as building schools and industries, he said, adding that many farm lands have been encroached upon and had to be regularised through gunthewari.
Noted urban planner Aneeta Gokhale-Benninger told TOI “The officials are looking at the issue only from a housing perspective. They are creating heat islands through such policies. Farm lands mitigate carbon footprints and help reduce pollution. Our food security is already stressed and threatened.”
Asked about the argument of officials that the decision would help do away with the need to seek NA and thus save the time and money of developers, Gokhale-Benninger said, “Doing away with NA permission is a wrong approach. Instead, cut the red tape and improve the procedure to grant NA.”