It is no longer clear that the residents of the Campa Cola Compound in central Mumbai are mere victims of a fraud by the builder, where extra floors were constructed without the requisite municipal permissions. Today's Indian Express details the cases of several flat-owners who all appear to be wealthy enough to have assured themselves that what they were buying had the requisite legal sanctions.
The Express report notes the cases of 23 of the 89 illegally constructed flats, and many of the owners appear to have been wealthy enough to own several flats (some own two or even four flats, including two owned by playback singer Lata Mangeshkar). It is thus difficult to believe that all of them were gypped by the builder.
Ordinary middle class flat-buyers desperate for a roof over their heads may or may not have the wherewithal to delve deep into building illegalities, but not the 10 flat owners who between them own 23 of the 89 flats in the Campa Cola Compound. Most of them are people of means, and not desperate enough to not know they are buying something patently illegal. Even if they didn't know, they could have employed lawyers to find out the truth.
This disclosure means that my earlier assumption, that most of the flat buyers may have been fooled by the builder, cannot quite be the whole truth. And it certainly won't be true for all the flat owners in the illegally constructed parts of the Campa Cola Compound.
When the facts change, my old presumption that most Campa Cola flat owners may be victims rather than willing participants in the illegalities is open to question. It could still be the case that many flat owners were victims rather than willing abettors of illegalities. But there is now too much in the grey area where right and wrong are no longer distinguishable.
I still believe that it is the builder who must be brought to book. He should be considered the prime culprit in this illegality, apart from the folks in the municipal corporation who may have aided the illegalities. But many of the flat owners do not appear to be gullible victims who could not have found out the builders' misrepresentations if they wanted to.
In view of the new facts, my old assertion that the Supreme Court has gone after the victims rather than the real culprits is on shaky ground. It is now difficult to believe that all the flat owners were duped. Maybe only some were. This does not mean they must be dispossessed without some compensation, but their eviction now does not appear to be all that unfair.
However, there is another aspect to the Campa Cola issue that never gets discussed. The fact is most Mumbai buildings tend to have some illegalities attached to them - though they do get subsequently rectified. The reason for this is becoming clear: without delays in permissions, our municipal babus and politicians cannot collect their illegal tithes. They are clearly the ultimate authors of this scandal.
Campa Cola may be the most egregious case, but this problem is true of thousands of buildings in Mumbai - and probably in other metros as well. In Delhi, the big campaign promises in the last election related to the legalisation of unauthorises colonies. If this is the case in all cities where land is expensive, clearly this is an open invitation to corruption.
We have known for some time that land and property are where the big money is made by state politicians and their babus. This cannot be fixed unless we have transparent land use and construction policies in urban areas with little scope for discretion. Most politicians hold wealth in benami lands, and they also collect huge bribes from real estate deals.
Real estate is the feeding trough of political corruption and this is the area one must focus on for change.
Campa Cola should be yet another warning signal to our polity that the root of all corruption lies in giving our politicians and bureaucrats discretionary powers which they can misuse. That, and our unreformed election funding laws, hold the keys to ending big ticket corruption.