The Calcutta Municipal Corporation is set to allow four-storey structures on land measuring 3.5 cottahs or less without any stipulation about the width of the road, a move that will benefit some but make an ugly cityscape uglier still and compromise safety.
The proposed changes in the building rules would allow the owner of a plot to raise a four-storey building by leaving barely four feet in front and six feet at the back. A plot with a pond in the backyard can also have a highrise with just a tiny strip of road in front.
Small-time promoters and building material suppliers have a lot to look forward to but this city of dwindling open spaces risks becoming a concrete slum, if it isn’t one already.
“The change in rules will suddenly open up thousands of plots to promoters. Single-storey or two-storey houses will make way for ugly apartment blocks with little breathing space between buildings,” a CMC official said on condition of anonymity.
The total sanctioned floor space is presently based on a calculation that takes into account the width of the road in front of the premises.
For a five-storey building, the road in front needs to be at least 30 feet wide. “Once the proposed amendments take effect, road width wouldn’t matter for plots measuring up to 3.5 cottahs,” the official said.
Not only will the city turn uglier, safety will be compromised too, warn experts.
“If there is a blaze, how do you take a fire engine to such a site? Imagine an 8ft wide, kilometre-long road dotted with five-storey buildings on either side,” an engineer said.
The amendments, already cleared by the municipal affairs department, are awaiting the state law department’s approval. The Assembly will next review the proposals over a fortnight and, if cleared, they will return to the municipal department for the final endorsement.
“These are just formalities. The government has approved the changes and it is a matter of time before these are implemented,” mayor Sovan Chatterjee said.
His predecessor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya called the proposed amendments “unnecessary” and guided by “an ulterior motive”.
“There already exist special provisions under the ‘removal of difficulties’ section to tackle unusual cases. If special relaxation is turned into a general rule, the city will suffer,” the former mayor warned.
The Trinamul government cites alleged anomalies during Left Front rule to defend its move.
Municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim said: “We are just replacing the pick-and-choose policy of the former CPM-led government with a common policy for the benefit of all.”
However, more than benefiting all, many see in the move an attempt to benefit a section of people closely linked to the Trinamul Congress: builders and building material suppliers.
Congress councillor Mala Roy said the objective behind the proposed amendments was no secret. “They are meant to create scope for small-time promoting in places like the interiors of Behala and the newly added areas of Joka I and II, where ponds and narrow roads abound.”
The areas Roy mentioned are part of mayor Chatterjee’s Assembly constituency.
“Our chief minister says she is against the use of farmland for industry but these new amendments will pave the way for the transfer of about 15,000 acres for urbanisation. Despite her tall claims, she seems to be closer to the promoters than the CPM was,” Roy said.
Owners of heritage buildings across the city would also benefit through the use of small, vacant strips of land that couldn’t have been thrown open to promoting otherwise.
Mayor Chatterjee insisted the decision to amend the building rules had been taken in consultation with experts, and for the greater good.
“We had engaged a consulting firm to suggest changes to the Building Rules, 2009, and these were finalised in consultation with the state government.”
He said the Trinamul-led civic body was about to do what the Left Front should have done decades ago but didn’t.
“Had similar amendments been carried out by the Left Front in 1984 at the time of bringing Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur under the CMC, several thousand ponds and other water bodies could have been saved from promoters. If we don’t take into account a pond adjacent to a strip of land while calculating the FAR (floor area ratio), the owner will try to fill it up,” the mayor argued.
The immediate impact of the proposed changes would be visible on the fringes of the city, most of them Trinamul pocket boroughs.
A 15-cottah plot with a 10-cottah pond is now allowed to have only a two-storey building if the road in front is 10ft or less in width. Once the changes take effect, a six-storey building can be built on that plot.
Buildings on plots measuring up to 3.5 cottahs also need not have more than a 6.5ft staircase, even if the structure is a four-storey one. The minimum width is presently 8ft.
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