Leases on three of Mumbai’s biggest salt pans, measuring above 1,800 acres (roughly 82 Oval Maidans), given to salt manufacturers at the turn of the previous century, expired last month.
The development comes at a time when the city’s sprawling salt pans, spread over 5,430 acres, are being eyed by the government and realtors for housing projects.
On October 14, the 99-year leases of salt pans in Kanjurmarg, Bhandup and Mulund, controlled by the families of Walawalkars, Garodias and Bomanjees, ended. They held the largest chunk of these lands which are seen as natural buffers against floods. The salt department in the Union ministry of commerce now wants the land back. The Centre claims ownership of all salt pans in India: an estimated 60,000 acres across nine states. Many private salt pan owners have challenged the Union government in the courts. Many have tied up with builders, hoping to exploit these vast lands once the government decides to open them up for development.
The Garodia family, for instance, which controls a 500acre salt pan sprawl in Bhandup, is being backed by construction giant Shapoorji Pallonji. The MoU between the two parties, TOI has learnt, involves the Pallonjis paying close to Rs 500 crore to the Garodias for development rights.The Garodias would also receive 9% of the total built-up area. But when the salt department learnt about the deal, it issued a public warning, claiming ownership of the land. The department warned interested parties not to enter into any sale or lease agreement with regard to the plot.
The salt department had issued the lease-holders termination notices more than a decade ago, but they obtained a stay from Bombay high court pleading that they were still manufacturing salt. Now since leases are over, the deputy salt commissioner’s office has filed a fresh plea informing the court of the Centre’s decision not to renew them. It referred to a 2013 government gazette notification, which said the ministry will not give any fresh leases once they expire.
In 2013, sensing that the agreement was signed without its knowledge, the salt department said it terminated the Garodia family’s lease about a decade ago (although it was to expire only in 2016) because they were cultivating grass and not manufacturing salt as the lease deed mandated. The Garodias filed a suit against the department; the case is still pending in the high court.
The Bomanjee family, which has 467 acres between Kanjurmarg, Bhandup and Nahur on either side of Eastern Express Highway, lost its case against the salt department in the high court. The family has now challenged the order in the Supreme Court. The Bomanjees said they have been in possession of these salt works since 1941.
Among those who possess the largest salt-pan tracts in the city are the Walawalkars, one of the three whose lease expired last month. The family has over 882 acres between Nahur and Mulund. Another 500 acres of its land was taken over by the government in Kanjurmarg for a dumping ground.
The salt department said 370 acres of the over 5, 430 acres of salt pans in Greater Mumbai (BMC limits) are encroached by huge housing colonies which were built in the 1970s. Chheda Nagar (140 acres) in Ghatkopar, Bangur Nagar (97 acres) in Goregaon, and Garodia Nagar in Ghatkopar. About 44 acres are encroached by slums.
Another 483 acres were acquired by the state government to build part of Eastern Express Highway, a sewage plant and a cemetery. Finally, 187 acres were given to the central government to build staff quarters of various organisations.