Their plight is natural and obvious. Faced with the inevitable demolition, save a miracle or a stay by the Supreme Court of its own order pending a review petition, the residents of the five apartment blocks in Worli are numbed. They face being dishoused within a couple of days, and to thwart that, have been running from pillar to post.
What is not obvious where the three builder-developers stand in this scandal, and how would they be dealt with, if at all. Their names are known: Yusuf Patel, BK Gupta, and PSB Construction Company, and that they just ignored all rules and brushed aside notices and then perhaps even paid some fines. They pocketed the profits and remain on the side-lines.
The Times of India has quoted from the Supreme Court order which puts the onus of compensation on the builders: "…flat buyers shall be free to avail appropriate remedy against the developers/builders". It also quoted an unnamed lawyer: "The flat owners could be entitled to compensation after demolition" from them, not the civic body which sanctioned the plans later flouted.
It is here that the unconscionable surfaces. Hindustan Times has quoted Mohan Adtani, Additional Municipal Commissioner, thus: "The illegalities identified in this case are very brazen. Besides the overall extent of the violations in constructing multiple unauthorised floors across all the buildings, the fact that the complex falls under the CRZ area makes the violations more severe."
Adtani is the official mandated to execute the Supreme Court’s order, which he willy-nilly will for not doing so would invite a contempt notice. In that quote you notice two adjectives—very and more—which make the case of the illegal, now ill-fated buildings hopeless. But it is here that the cat comes out of the bag, which should shame the civic body.
Notice the adjectives in his response. They were not just brazen but very brazen. The fact that the buildings flouted the coastal regulatory zone stipulations made it more severe. If they are that, how come the realisation dawned only in the year 2002, a full dozen years after the builders were done with their deeds?
For the record, during the mischief played on buyers by the builder-developers, Adtani was nowhere in the civic body but his statement reflects an institutional attitude where when the push comes to the shove, the entity escapes entity. Escape routes are legal but they beg questions about the moral aspects. Any other official in his place could have duly said just as much.
Normally, a flat cannot be sold unless the civic body issues the mandatory occupation certificates (OCs) though the flats could be sold. Several structural and safety aspects are to be met before the OCs are issued. If they are occupied, the civic body denies water connections but—and here is the nub—collects property taxes.
By notifying the residents, after the nominal fines etc. we see that the builder is nowhere in the picture. The civic body rules are so framed that the builder is the least affected. Demolitions, too, do not hurt them and locating them too would be hard in most cases. Buyers interact with them only at the building sites, unless they are reputed, longstanding ones.
So far there has been not a word about anyone trying to bring the builders to book for the dark deals that enabled them to raise them brazenly were between them and the civic officials. There is not a word yet either about anyone filing a simple FIR against them for conning the buyers as well as disrespecting the civic body and its rules. Civic body’s task ends with demolitions.
The common refrain, regardless of where it comes from by way of explanations, is that they merrily developed the campus of a former cool drinks manufacturer—after which the spot is now known, Camp Cola Compound—despite the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai not permitting it. But the civic body, through the intermediation of its officials, allowed it by turning a blind eye.
‘Permit’ is used here to mean the official approval of the layout, the allocation of floor space index, the height and number of floors, and the issuance of a commencement certificate under the civic body’s building code. ‘Allow’ here means obvious connivance for this cluster of buildings could not have come so fast that it could not have been halted.
It was not an overnight; the construction went on from 1981 to 1989, and from 1990 the apartments built on stolen FSI began to be sold and grabbed by buyers because of its prime location – Midtown, prized Worli neighbourhood indeed. And only in 2002 did the residents begin to receive notices for excess use of FSI.
The point is the FSI, legit and the illicit, was used by the builder and sold, and as everyone who has bought a flat in Mumbai knows how opaque the builders are, how nicely the paperwork is fudged, how hard it is to figure out the details. It is so because the only outlet for such information is the civic body which is impermeable to the citizen’s interests. Generally bribes talk and builders’ bribes are generous.
Their interests are with the builders and developers, or else, the extent of this malaise in Mumbai as well as in the surrounding areas could not be as widespread. Building codes are for flouting. The buyer is a sucker. If he gets anything at all in proper order, he is lucky. Luckier are the civic officials: they connive and also appear to be dutiful when illegalities are found out.
Just routine by now, one would say.