Demolition of illegal Mumbai flats: Why hit the innocent?


by  Apr 26, 2013, Firstpost

 

There is this often narrated anecdote, surely apocryphal, where a mischievous student’s parent tells the teacher that the boy is sensitive. If he errs it would do if the next student is slapped and his son would get the message. That was, of course, before corporal punishment was outlawed.

To expect such hints to be taken by people who occupy illegal structures in Mumbai or in any city is absurd. It applies well to the move of the Mumbai’s civic body to demolish 140 apartments on 35 floors across seven apartment buildings in Worli. It was not a spontaneous action from the civic body, it was ordained by the Supreme Court.

Building collapse in Mumbra. PTI

Building collapse in Mumbra. PTI

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has now made the headlines by the simple fact of speaking about how it has drawn a logistic and supervisory strategy to do so in three months, as The Times of India reported on Thursday. It mentioned, how, rightly, the residents were unnerved. One would be surprised if they were not.

The demolition plan is terrible news mostly since it is an entirely wrong way to go about the business of illegal constructions, which of course, are rife in the city. Simply because the Supreme Court ordered it for violations of civic laws also does not necessarily make it right. There are many more which have deviated from the rules.

The civic body, in the cloud of the dust raised by the collapse the Mumbra building which took 74 lives, has but to act on the apex court’s order which bars the residents from seeking regularisation of the illegalities. It naturally leaves them with no option but to take recourse to a review petition.

By making a virtue out of the order, talking about new techniques without disclosing the details as to how the flats would be brought down, and saying that about Rs 1.5 crore would be spent towards complying, MCGM simply cannot escape its responsibility in having allowed such nonchalant law-breaking.

What about the shamble in which the residents of other apartments would have to live in, during the demolition? It is assumed that they or the worth of their property does not matter at all. The collateral damage to them is hard to imagine.

Not bringing the unauthorised apartments down would be contempt of court, but allowing them to have come up in the first place itself requires a judicial enquiry which can and should hold the process and the participants in it guilty as well. We have hardly heard anything much about those who perpetrate such frauds, of being held accountable.

Had the Supreme Court only asked the MCGM to bring before it all the cases of violations and then their regularisation, say during the past one decade, it would have helped bare the unbelievable extent of the mischief played by the real estate interests and civic officials in cahoots. Those interests include politicians.

There are likely to be more illegal buildings or parts of buildings than there are those among them which should have attracted the demolition crews of the civic body. The very fact that they did not is itself a testimonial admission of the civic body’s culpability. Except, of course, we don’t know which are illegal and which not; even the buyers did not.

This does not at all mean that enforcement of law has to be only selective in the sense the builders who come up with the grand designs to cheat and then, with ever-eager willingness of the civic officials, often at the behest of politicians who urge everyone to wink at the deviations, can go scot free.

Mumbai’s civic body and its counterparts in other cities have avoided universally applying the building code—from floor space index to eligibility of a site to host the structure, including the structural quality, explaining the violations if—only if—exposed and act seemingly responsibly thereafter, up to a point before resuming their mischief. It is a lot cheaper to do a job honestly and efficiently than cope with consequences.

This common sense approach abundantly useful to ensure reliability of a civic body is missing in their administrative culture across cities. Because adhering to the proper ways would lead to huge losses by way of illegal incomes. It is as if the citizen is not at all a stakeholder. Those who stick to their statutory duties are often dismissed as cranks, as GR Khairnar was.

Had Khairnar only done his job without running at the mouth, and grabbing headlines, he perhaps would have been better off. But had he not, looking at the flip side, he would have been smothered by the corrupt in the system. The system that protects wrongdoing is much more competent than the other citizen-centric work as per law.

It cannot be anyone’s case that Mumbai or for that matter any city’s illegal structures, from lean-tos on sidewalks to slum colonies to elegant multi-storeyed apartments, should be allowed. Well-performing cities ought not to allow them to even emerge, leave alone mushroom. If they do, there are undermining their own stated purpose.

They are allowed to mushroom and then, amid outcries—often maybe because the right bribe was not paid—make the innocent buyer almost invariably the casualty. Even the slums that crop up hither and yon with near impunity from the civic demolition squads have been blessed by politicians and as the recent case of an entire corrupt police station lining up for bribes showed, everyone is on the make.

Then why leave the victim thrashing about after being targeted by the real estate industry which not only makes housing unaffordable but also runs a racket hand in glove with those who ought not to have allowed it in the first place. If this Worli pattern becomes the chosen way, large chunks of Mumbai residents would be on the streets sans a shelter even as the jails remain empty.

 

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. S.Y.NARAYANAN
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 10:30:42

    If builing bye-laws are violated it amounts to endangerment to public life. If the number of floors are excess of the approvable(not the one approved) numbers, then thers are related mandatory requirements like the the open space in front, rear, sides of the tower etc. If the spaces are short, then the state apparatus for fire-fighting can not be positioned at the required distance from the building to achieve a certain minmum angle for fire fighting and life rescue operation. Hence if the number of floors are built in excess of what is approvable(not ncessarily what is approved) then occupants of these excess floors shall be denied rescue as the fire fighters will find it impossible to attend quoting the shortage of space around the building.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Urgent Action Alert: stop brutal demolition of houses in Mumbai | kracktivist
  3. Trackback: Mumbai- Houses Demolished, Thousands Left to Fend for Themselves | kracktivist

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