How terms laid out by Campa Cola will check illegal housing in Mumbai

Campa Cola raises moral issues hard to duck though they are lost in the plethora of court cases seeking stays for demolitions. There are a lot more non-slum illegal structures than one can imagine.

Mahesh Vijapurkar June 20, 2014 13:45:22 IST
How terms laid out by Campa Cola will check illegal housing in Mumbai

When we talk of illegal structures, mostly residential, the reference is not to the slums that make Mumbai the slum capital of Maharashtra. It is about formal housing that people like us occupy, even if it was built without permission, built bigger than what was permitted, or built by deviating from the building code. In Maharashtra, illegal buildings simply abound.

One estimate claims nearly a third of all buildings in Mumbai do not have an occupation certificate. Some 80,000 such structures in the Pimpri-Chinchwad-Pune metro region are also illegal.

How terms laid out by Campa Cola will check illegal housing in Mumbai

A file photo showing Campa Cola residents staging protests. Agency

Ulhasnagar, smaller than Pimpri, has as many and Thane too comes close to that.

Over time, Maharashtra has seen any number of slum dwellers being evacuated; their shanties swiftly razed to the extent that courts in the past had to step in, asking that it stay its bulldozers at least during monsoons. They didn’t raise the people’s angst as much as the demolitions of illegal but formal housing, like the Campa Cola structures, have.

Campa Cola raises moral issues hard to duck though they are lost in the plethora of court cases seeking stays for demolitions. There are a lot more non-slum illegal structures than one can imagine. Should they be razed because there are illegalities, which spring from mischief not of the developers’ alone, their occupants mostly unaware of the infringements?

The buyers-beware caveat prevails in law but they are wrong guys caught in the cleft end of the stick, a fact that now seems to have touched the conscience of the state, which is planning a new policy on regularising illegal structures. This new policy draft, interestingly, is to be prepared by a committee of a dozen municipal commissioners and two officials.

This committee’s constitution itself raises two questions. One, civic bodies are the one of the two parties culpable in the rash of illegal buildings: developers propose deviations from building codes, with official machinery conniving by winking at them.

Two, where are the other stakeholders, which are the city residents?

The irony is that these illegal buildings neither sprouted overnight nor without the complicity of the civic officials. Once that's done and the flats sold, the civic bodies even collected taxes from them and charged twice the rate for the nectar of life, drinking water. The victims were the buyers alone.

Unlike the rhetorical ‘why us?’ by the victims of this well-organised mischief, which has seen many get undeservingly richer, Campa Cola residents have asked a blunt question: who pays even if they are evacuated and their homes demolished? They have listed conditions (read here) which would require responses.

It is unexplained why an entire township of swish apartments built on a land secured for peanuts in Powai to build housing for the poor is untouched, but Campa Cola is put in a quandary. That is clearly because issues of rights and wrongs of only specified buildings which, are taken up differently on case by case basis. Uniformity of approach has been lacking.

Nor, why when civic bodies, of course in ignorance of the fact that plots under private forests, have allowed real estate development on them, the forest department is holding the owners to ransom and sought a review of the apex court order which freed them of liability if some costs were paid for re-afforestation. These 1.6 lakh apartments are in limbo.

When the Powai township and the buildings on the private forests came up, there was – there must have been – an official promoting it, apart from the builder-developers. No effort has been initiated to find these people, who of course are officials in key positions with ability to shower discretion for a price, and take them to the law.

Campa Cola residents have come out with the string of conditions which are clever indeed. Legal flats are not to be affected when pulling down the illegal, much like Shylock being allowed only his pound of flesh, not a drop of blood, and not rendered homeless even for a day. Since the parking spaces had nothing to do with the FSI consumption, they are to be protected.

This can put the civic body in a bind. The 14 Campa Cola conditions come in useful and if met, would be one simple way of eliminating or reducing the illegal structures if generally applied henceforth. No more regularisation, case by case or for a group by Ordinance from time to time. Since the flats are illegal, the land’s share should accrue to the duped buyers.

The properties of the successor of the erring builder, if the guy was dead, should be used to compensate the cheated buyers. If post-demolition, courts side with the apartment owners, the government should pay market price as compensation. More importantly, they want the civic officials to be punished. Identifying them is not impossible.

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