Eye on 2019 polls: Government goes all out to save amnesty scheme for pre-2015 illegal buildings

Eye on 2019 polls: Government goes all out to save amnesty scheme for pre-2015 illegal buildings
In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP-led government in the state has decided to go all out to save a contentious amnesty scheme it had introduced for pre-2015 illegal buildings.

On November 2, the Bombay High Court had dealt the state’s scheme a big blow. While it did not strike down the scheme entirely, the court had read down amendments introduced in the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act, 1966, in this regard that have virtually rendered it toothless.

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The Devendra Fadnavis government has now decided to file a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court challenging the HC decision, sources said.

According to the state’s own estimates, Maharashtra’s urban belts have more than 10 lakh such unauthorised constructions. In 2017, Fadnavis had run a successful election campaign for local body polls in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Pimpri-Chinchwad near Pune, promising regularisation of illegal buildings.

In the MMR, Thane, Mumbai’s biggest satellite town, has one lakh such unauthorised developments. In neighbouring Navi Mumbai’s Digha, over 20,000 residents have been found occupying unauthorised buildings built on state-owned industrial land. In Pimpri-Chinchwad, sources said, there are more than 65,000 illegal buildings.

The state’s legislature had passed the controversial amendments in April 2017. Earlier the High Court had twice struck down previous attempts towards this mass regularisation. This time, while it did not strike down the amendment in toto, a division bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Anil Menon disallowed provisions that permitted “the planning authority or the state government to compound (regularise on payment of penalty) unauthorised developments that had come up contrary to the provisions mentioned in the city development plan or regional plans and the development control regulations.”

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Further clauses allowing regularisation of structures constructed in violation of land zoning rules or those encroaching on public properties were also struck down. While the government’s legal side had pleaded for a stay on the judgment, the High Court had rejected the plea. The government will now approach the Supreme Court for relief.

Sources said the government is likely to argue that the High Court’s judgment will also have implications on other buildings with minor violations and departures from the development control regulations (DCR), which are already compoundable under existing provisions. “The High Court order states that unless the DCR provisions regarding open spaces (around buildings) and setback are complied with, the structure cannot be regularised,” a source said. But municipal commissioners are already equipped with discretionary powers to condone such departures to a certain extent, the source said.

The amnesty scheme had provisions for a one-time penalty from beneficiaries for the regularisation in the form of a compounding fee and infrastructure charges. It had said that it shall be at least three times the development charges payable for the plot in question. The development charges are computed on the basis of ready reckoner rates.

The High Court judgment came at a time the Fadnavis government has already directed all municipalities to invite applications from owners or occupiers of unauthorised structures who were interested in availing the benefit. Once an unauthorised structure is compounded, it has said “no further development shall be permissible other than repairs and maintenance.” It also said: “Any redevelopment or reconstruction of the structures shall be permitted only as per the DCR provisions.”

There were also provisions to regularise illegal construction on land reserved for public purposes if cases where the option of relocating the reservation was available.

The High Court division bench has rapped the state for going ahead with such mass regularisation without carrying out an impact assessment study. Pointing out at the repeated extension of slum cut-off deadline to protect illegal slum encroachments on public land in the past, the High Court bench has stated that the “objects and reasons (of the amnesty scheme) did not show that it was a one-time measure.”

Mass regularisation drives have been repeatedly used by successive governments in the state to woo voters before elections.

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