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Thane bandh: The govt-politician-builder nexus in cover-up bid

by Mahesh Vijapurkar  Apr 18, 2013 20:16 IST

#HowThisWorks   #Mumbra collapse  

The legality of the daylong bandh in Thane city today could well be argued what with the High Court frowning on the tendency to organise bandhs and slapping fines on the organisers on earlier occasions.

In fact, the very purpose of the bandh - protection of illegal constructions - deserves to be questioned.

The fact that the politicians seem to have plunged headlong into vote bank politics at the cost of the interests of a million people living in Thane, is itself very disturbing. The Shiv Sena and the NCP had called the bandh to protest the municipal corporation's drive to demolish illegal buildings like the one that collapsed in Mumbra and killed more than 70 people.

While it might seem that they are empathetic to the residents of these illegal buildings, it is evident that the political leaders are trying to covertly help the cause of the promoters. While the nefarious activities that the promoters indulge in is public knowledge, the politicians don't just want to endorse the knowledge of it all publicly.

With the elections round the corner, there's more reason to cover up the promoters' tracks.

Immediately after the Mumbra collapse occurred, the political leaders were crying themselves hoarse, asking for the contractors of these buildings be punished and these structures be pulled down.

The reality, however, sunk in soon. It dawned on them that Thane was an important electorate. The residents of these illegal constructions were a vote bank like were the promoters. Also, by bringing the promoters to the book they would be risking their own reputation - illegal promoting of that extent could not have gone on without go-ahead of the political parties.

PTI

A protester vandalises a bus during a bandh demanding the rehabilitation of residents affected by demolition of illegal constructions in Thane, Mumbai. PTI

So, they promptly demanded all such buildings, regardless of their locations and ownership, be regularised if built prior to 2010 but did not explain the cut-off’s rationale. For the slums, it is 1995 - the cut-off extension to 2000 is pending in the Supreme Court. The Thane civic body’s general body yesterday adopted resolution for all structures without specifying if slums were included in it.

The need to enforce the bandh intensified after Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan announced that the illegal constructions shouldn't be allowed to thrive. They need to be demolished making way for proper redevelopment, he said. By implication, the dangerous ones would go first and those only illegal would get a lower priority. However, the local politicians have to notch up their brownie points; hence, the bandh.

The Nationalist Congress Party leader Jitendra Ahwad and Shiv Sena’s district chief Eknath Shinde, and some local Congressmen led the movement against the government's decision to bring down the buildings. The BJP remained a fence-sitter and Raj Thackeray's Mahanirvan Sena opposed the move.

MNS chief Raj Thackeray was clear: Why is it that the builders of these illegal constructions are never brought to books? Why is the practice rampant? How come none of them has ever been punished, ever had a complaint lodged against him? Who, among the civic officials and politicians, are backing them?

That well could be an exercise, which if ever undertaken, with the potential to set the system right. But that is a pipedream. In all probability, the 2009 formula of having 1.6 lakh structures in Ulhasnagar, in the vicinity of Thane city, may emerge as long as they secured a certificate structural soundness and were confirmed not to be obstructing public use of spaces.

The cleansing of the system will not be easy. Because it is not just a couple of buildings which are being called illegal. Two third of the buildings in the area have been labelled illegal - it is obvious that illegal construction is a thriving industry with builders, civic officials and politicians and involved.

However, it won't be soon that Raj Thackeray's approach to the whole issue will be appreciated. More because it will open up a Pandora's Box that will reveal the illegal activities of a clutch of government officers, political leaders and influential businessmen.

RA Rajeev, the civic chief, has already spoken of ‘political pressures’, ‘personal and vested interests’ as factors hard to oppose.

There is little doubt that the Thane resident – or even an owner of an apartment, however expensively bought or shoddily built – does feel insecure and quietly backs the bandh. His hope is that the hassles are nipped before they start. But at the same time, curses not just his luck but the corrupt establishment and the builders for his plight. Most buildings do not even have occupation certificates because the builders have fled.