AHMEDABAD: Just why did Ahmedabad expand in the periphery? A new World Bank report traces the history of the city’s expansion to the development plan of 1965 when a 240 metres wide area on private agricultural land covering an area of 8.4 sq km was proposed in the new plan.
This was the year when the total municipal area of the city was 93 sq km. Today, the urban agglomerate area of the city, including AUDA area, is around 1,900 sq km with a green belt covering 9% of the total land cover.
“The main objective of the green belt was to restrict urban sprawl and regulate and balance open versus built development and act as a sink for urban pollution,” claims the paper authored by Madhu Bharti and Shagun Mehrotra.
But this proposal met with resistance as land owners were unhappy with AMC’s compensation and challenged the plan in the court.
In the 1980s and 1990s the report states, the city rapidly expanded beyond the municipal corporation limits, leading to fragmented urban expansion, particularly along the western fringes of the city. “This fragmented development outside the city limits was partly attributed to the Urban Land Ceiling Act, 1976, which led to an artificial increase in land prices within the city limits.
“Over time, many encroached on these green belt reserves to build houses,” states the WB paper.
The Sardar Patel Ring Road was conceptualized in the 2001 revised development plan to facilitate integrated urban development along the metropolitan periphery of Ahmedabad.
Residents claim that the builder, Shrujal Patel of Abhinav Developers, has used land in the residential area to build the facility for commercial gain, which they claim is an illegal act. On his part, the builder says he has secured all necessary clearances, including the BU (building use) permission.
The society residents have knocked the doors of Gujarat High Court seeking demolition of the structure, claiming that Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation gave it a conditional BU certificate illegally. The petition also avers that the ‘commercial construction’ was done on a 40-metre internal road of the corporation in the residential area, where commercial activity is not permitted. The plea states that a seven-storey structure, with a basement parking but without adequate margin space on the sides, is not permissible.
Plot number 3 of Gokul Park Society measuring roughly 460 square yards was sold off in 2018 and the bungalow that existed on it was demolished. According to society office bearers, inquiries made by society residents on the type of construction planned elicited evasive replies from the builder.
Plot number 3 of Gokul Park Society measuring roughly 460 square yards was sold off in 2018 and the bungalow that existed on it was demolished. According to society office-bearers, inquiries made by society residents on the type of construction planned elicited evasive replies from the builder.
‘RTI pleas, complaints unanswered’
Worried that their peaceful and tranquil street might get transformed into a cacophonic stretch with massive parking problems if a commercial complex illegally comes up in the area, residents submitted three RTI applications before the authority concerned in the AMC in August 2019 — on August 20, 21 and 31 –to seek information on the building plan of the construction, but received no information from the civic body.
On October 4, a complaint was filed before the AMC to draw its attention to the construction in breach of relevant building regulations.
It was also conveyed to the authorities that the construction would cause nuisance and annoyance. AMC did not respond to the complaint either. Society members say that the evasive approach of the municipal corporation forced them to approach Gujarat High Court and file a Special Civil Application on December 19, 2019.
Petitioner and chairman of the society Dr Pallav Choksi says, “Bunglows on plots here are meant to house six-eight residents. But the builder is planning to accommodate about 150 paying guests in the PG girls’ hostel. The entire 460 sq yards have been used for construction and no margins have been kept on the sides. We are amazed how the AMC found it fit to give BU permission to the building even as the case was under litigation and we were still in the high court.”
During lockdown, a Covid-19 facility was allowed to be set up here by a hospital, but protests by the societies in the vicinity forced the AMC to get the hospital to change their plans, Choksi said.
Two-storey is maximum limit: Resident
One resident of the society said only a two-storey building in a residential area can be used for commercial purpose, and that too for small establishments like provision stores or a doctor or chartered accountant’s office as per GDCR rules. A building of this size is built purely for commercial use and is illegal. Are they going to provide accomodation and food for a nominal fee at the PG?” Society secretary Jayesh Shah said, “This must be the quickest BU permission given to any construction by AMC. The builder applied for BU permission on January 4, 2020, and the permission was granted on March 3, 2020.”
Chairman Choksi said under no circumstances can permission be given for a seven-storey commercial building with a basement parking in a residential area.
PG is residential facility: Civic official
When approached, AMC estate officer Chaitanya Shah said, “A PG arrangement is included in a residential facility description. PG is a residence hostel, and there is a GDCR provision that underlines this. PG is not a commercial enterprise, and this (the plot in question) is not a housing society plot. The matter is however in the Gujarat High Court.”
Respondents in the residents’ special application include A h m e d a b a d M u n i c i p a l Commissioner, Deputy municipal Commissioner, Town Development Officer (Danapith), Estate Officer, Town Development Officer (West Zone), developer Shrujal Sudhirbhai Patel and proprietors of Abhinav Developers, Amish G Chokshi and Ashir G Chokshi.
Plan approved, BU legitimate: Builder
Builder Shrujal Patel of Abhinav Developers said, “I got the necessary BU permission, the fire safety clearance and building plan approved by the AMC. Why would the AMC approve the plans and give me the BU permission if my construction was illegal? The fact is that residents fear that more such paying guest facilities will come up in the area.”
“They are eagerly awaiting a favourable judgment from the court in this case. Besides, Gokul Park is not a registered housing society, but instead only individual plots. One of these, I bought from my cousin and built a PG guest facility,” the builder further added.
The AMC has also directed Suresh Tahiliani, owner of the ceramic business in Naroda, to stop using a portion of his residence as workplace as he had earmarked a small space of the property as his office following the lockdown period.
Though Tahiliani stopped using the space as office, he was forced to move the city civil court against the AMC’s notice which also directed him to restore the property to its original status of “residential” . Last week, the court stayed any action on AMC notice at least till the civic body explained its position before the court.
Tahiliani had purchased a residential property, demolished the structure and rebuilt it in 2016. A year later, he obtained the building use permission for residential purpose. He has been paying property tax to the civic body under the category of residential property for two years.
In July this year, he was asked to pay commercial tax for the property for 2019-20 after civic officials found an office being run from the premises. Tahilani had no issue with paying commercial tax, but AMC issued him a notice asking to stop using the property for commercial purposes and restore the building to its original position.
Tahilani wrote back to AMC in October explaining how he obtained BU permission after reconstruction three years ago. It was only for a short time after the lockdown that the small portion of the premises was used as an office where ceramic articles were also showcased. ‘WFH doesn’t mean setting up shop at home’
Ahmedabad Municipal commissioner Mukesh Kumar said the merits of the case would have to be examined. “Usually, WFH does not mean that you can set up a shop at in your house. WFH means having a personal workstation, a few files and a corner room to yourself. AMC does entertain applications for converting part of residential properties for commercial use, but then there is a procedure.”
“We receive applications from citizens for converting part of the residence for commercial use for requirements under Shops and Establishment Act or for obtaining professional tax certificates. But when people don’t reveal that part of their properties are used for commercial purpose we have to go by the book. At present AMC does not have any tax exemption policy WFH policies,” says a senior AMC tax official.
AMC did not respond to Tahilani’s representation, and he went to civil court. The AMC has not responded to the court’s notice and the court thus stayed any AMC action pending reply.
The AMC standing committee decided that these properties will now be given on 99-year leases to the existing users who have been paying the rent to the corporation.
Standing committee chairman Amul Bhatt said this was a major issue and the state government has formed a policy and based on the government’s directive, the AMC has decided to let out these properties on 99-year leases.These are old buildings that have been given on rent for periods ranging from 10 years to 30 years.
The decision to give these properties on lease was taken at the AMC general board meeting in 2010-11 and the standing committee had taken a final decision on July 5, 2012.
This was given final approval on July 27, 2012, and was sent to the government for final approval. On September 5, the state government granted its approval.
The government has stated the property can be given on lease for 99 years at 20% to 30% of the existing jantri rate and if the present tenant was a sub-tenant he or she will have to pay 30% of the jantri rate.
Of the 4,835 commercial properties, the maximum majority, 2909, are in the Central Zone, while 511 are in the South Zone, 303 in the West Zone, 194 in the East Zone and one in the North Zone.