May 25, 2020
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Cess La Vie

Cess La Vie
The big talking point in Bombay nowadays is not the nuclear deal. It is something much closer home: the recent striking down by the Supreme Court of a high court ruling that could have a profound effect on all those living in the island city, from Mahim to Colaba. Our highest court has said, in effect, that developers are entitled to unlimited FSI for the redevelopment of what are called "cessed" buildings. A "cessed" building is one that pays the municipality a cess for maintenance and upkeep. There are over 16,000 such buildings which pre-date 1940, nearly all in shockingly bad condition, a blight on our financial capital. For the uninitiated, FSI is floor space index, which is the area on which you can build on a particular plot of land. The existing FSI is extremely low, which means few highrises are permitted and therefore very little new construction has taken place in recent years.

After the Supreme Court ruling, urban planners like Shirish Patel and heritage experts like Abha Lamba and Sharada Dwivedi are dismayed, since the ruling seems to include heritage structures as well. But what about landlords and tenants? They are the ones who really matter. How have they reacted? Bombay has hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tenants who pay ridiculously small amounts as "old" rents. The owners of these buildings naturally cannot afford to maintain them properly, not even to give them a decent coat of paint. Which is why the city looks like one vast festering slum. Politicians like Murli Deora—and now his son, Milind—have championed tenants because they provide a "votebank". However, tenants should be happy with the Supreme Court ruling. Their rundown buildings can now be completely redone. They will have the choice of paying considerably less than the market rate to own their premises, or get sufficient compensation to move elsewhere. There will be a construction boom and a much better looking city. I see nothing wrong with that, though I may be considered politically incorrect.

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