First Chinese, now Indians under probe!

Monday, 2 March 2015 00:21 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Cabinet approves full review of $ 430 m ‘One Colombo’ mixed development project in Slave Island by world-famous and highly-respected corporate giant Tata of India
  • Project envisaged three apartment blocks comprising 40 storeys each containing 580 housing units not less than 400 sqft per unit and 96 luxury housing apartments

Flashback: Tata officials explain the One Colombo project to the then Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the ground breaking ceremony held in May last year. File photo

First it was China’s Port City and now the President Maithripala-Premier Wickremesinghe Government has zeroed in on India’s corporate giant Tata’s $ 430 million mixed development project in Slave Island. The Cabinet last week decided to do a complete review of the highly-respected corporate Tata’s project titled ‘One Colombo Ltd,’ which was previously approved under the Strategic Development Act. The project, on an area of eight acres in Slave Island, was launched in May last year. It envisaged three apartment blocks comprising 40 storeys each containing 580 housing units not less than 400 sqft per unit. In addition, Tata Housing Development Ltd. also plans to build 96 luxury housing apartments. Construction work was expected to be complete within a period of two-and-a-half years. On a proposal made by Minister of Investment Promotion, Highways and Higher Education Kabir Hashim, Cabinet approved to review the whole process of launching a mixed development project in the Slave Island area of Colombo 2. This was with the objective of providing a better life standard to the people residing in the area and to recommence the whole project from the very beginning in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Strategic Development Act. When the project was launched last year, it was emphasised that the primary goal was to uplift the living standard of the people in the area and provide them a better living environment, thereby improving the liveability of the city. Actively promoted by the then Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, under the project each beneficiary will get a more spacious house compared to their old houses. During the construction period, each displaced family will be paid a house rental allowance starting from Rs. 15,200 to Rs. 52,000. The project in Slave Island encompasses Malay Street from the east, Justice Akbar Street from the south, the railway track from the west and the land used by the Ministry of Education from the north. The total cost for providing relocation houses/commercial units is estimated at Rs. 5.8 billion including rental payments for temporary accommodation of families. The One Colombo project was part of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) overall housing development program targeting to resettle around 65,000 number of low income families living in underserved settlements in the city of Colombo. The Defence and Urban Development Ministry at that time stated that due to the substantial cost involved for construction of houses for resettlement of shanty dwellers, the UDA explored getting private sector participation for the development of such encumbered lands. Accordingly, UDA identified a block of land in extent of around eight acres at Slave Island as a priority project. “This particular block has got fragmented into smaller pieces over the years and that resulted in disputing title of those land plots. As per the enumeration survey carried out by the UDA, 456 residential units and nearly 100 non-residential units occupied the block in a congested manner and without basic facilities. The entire block remains in a dilapidated state. Due to unclear title and limitation of extent, the individual occupants were not able to develop their respective plots. Therefore the UDA’s intervention was essential to clear out those bottlenecks and to utilise it for high-rise mixed developments, harnessing the maximum potential of this prime location in the city,” the Defence Ministry said. Of the land plots, 77% are of less than two perches in extent. About 12 land plots were of more than six perches; 25% of the houses have a floor area of less than 400 sq ft. Almost all the land plots are not acceptable to lending institutions. Individual property owners cannot sell or develop their properties due to limitations. Houses are located in a back-to-back position, having only foot path access. Titles are not clear due to fragmentation into smaller pieces. The UDA also took action to acquire the said land block under the Land Acquisition Act for its title clearance purpose. At its launch, the Defence Ministry said almost all the families had agreed to renounce their rights to claim for compensation for the respective land plots as they are provided with permanent houses with all facilities within two to three years in lieu of their individual properties. Very few families have claimed compensation instead of obtaining alternative houses and the UDA will accommodate their request. No sooner the compensation amounts are determined by the acquiring officer, the UDA will release the payments to them without any delay. A developer has to initially invest his own funds to build the relocation apartments to the quality standard specified by the UDA. The balance land extent released through this process will have to be alienated to the investor to develop for high rise apartments and commercial uses based on a proper urban design layout which includes all facilities and amenities adhering to the UDA planning and building regulations whereby the investor could recover his investment. “This strategy will pave the way to achieve a win-win situation for the occupants as well as developer,” the Defence and Urban Development Ministry said last year. It was envisaged that once the ongoing surrounding developments in the John Keells site, Station passage and former Colombo Commercial sites are completed in Slave Island, the recipients of relocation houses in the Tata project could gain a huge value addition to their houses. The project would bring additional benefits to the country through direct foreign remittance, employment generation, technology transfer and multiple effects to the building industry, the Defence and Urban Development Ministry said.