Fresh surveys may unlock precious land in salt pans

Fresh ground surveys being conducted by the state government to draw up a new Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) could hold the key to unlocking Mumbai's vast tracts of salt pan lands for development. The existing CZMP lapsed last month, and 'ground-truthing' exercises are now underway to confirm doubts that land parcels were erroneously classified as salt pans by outdated surveys over two decades ago.

"As per the Centre's notification, the existing CZMP only had validity till January 6, 2013. It was expected that all states should work out a new CZMP with new survey maps and ground-truthing on a scale of 1:4,000, and have it in place by January 6. The old maps were prepared on obsolete technology on a scale of 1:25,000. Actually, between the scale in those maps and in reality, there could be a 25 metre difference, which could be costly in Mumbai," Maharashtra's environment secretary Valsa Nair Singh told The Indian Express.

Maharashtra has asked the Centre to extend the existing CZMP for a year, till it can complete surveys and prepare a new plan.

"We are conducting fresh surveys at a scale of 1:4,000. We have completed 60 per cent in Mumbai, and about 70-80 per cent in other coastal districts. Other states have not even started," she said.

"When it (the land) was classified as salt pan, it may have been classified as CRZ 1 erroneously because of the technology we had in 1991. I don't think at that time there was any salt manufacturing; it was not salt pan. It may have been categorised as such because of a faulty survey. If that was the case, then it will be taken as error evident on record," Singh said.

Salt pan lands in Mumbai fall under CRZ 1, where no construction is permitted. To get them reclassified as CRZ 2, which allows for construction activity, the state Urban Development department could move a proposal to the environment department. The reclassification process for CRZ involves a site visit by an inter-departmental committee, as well as by the agencies that conduct the survey. Fresh reports are submitted by the agency that conducted the original survey, by the agency that conducts a new survey, and a third agency that monitors the reports by the other two.

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