By Lata Jha:
It sometimes feels like Mumbai is facing a split personality disorder, if you read about it. Flourishing alongside the glitz, glamour, industries and prosperity is the poverty, the crumbling civic governance and hordes of other such issues. Today, Mumbai is synonymous with the collapse of civic governance. Sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, the township in Thane district is peppered with structurally weak residential buildings. In April, 74 people died when the seven-storey Lucky Compound collapsed.
Later, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan went on to tell the Assembly that nine out of ten buildings in Mumbai are either illegal or irregular. Thane Municipal Commissioner R.A. Rajeev had passed orders for the demolition of 16,000 unauthorised buildings, all built over the past five years, but nothing ever materialized.
In the current real estate scenario, there are umpteen unregistered or uncertified contractors undertaking residential projects. Many of them are commissioning projects under the affordable housing tag. Most tap into an existing network of corrupt officials within the municipal body and circumvent mandatory checks and certifications.
Rashid Compound in the heart of Mumbai, for instance, is a prime example of illegal construction. Every one of the 50 residential structures in this compound is considered illegal.Â In the neighbouring Shibly Nagar area, Razia Complex and Ismaili Apartment, both seven-storeyed, are regarded to be illegal. It is said that the building stood on land illegally acquired from adivasis. The builder could not be traced.
Mumbai represents our ineffective housing laws and policies. An earthquake measuring a little over 2 on the Richter scale would kill thousands here. The real problem is that builders are often the sole point of contact between the civic bodies, town planning agencies and representative owners of a property. So, it becomes a lot easier for them to take advantage of this and fix deals. Also, many residents can’t really do anything after they realise they’ve been duped by contractors or builders. The milk is already spilt.
One major loophole that lets illegal builders get away easily is the technical difference between an illegal building and an illegal structure. Illegal structures are legal constructions with negligible violations, sometimes occurring out of miscalculation; illegal buildings have no legal standing at all.Â Now with the High Court asking civic bodies to provide factual positions on illegal constructions, the heat is on. One hopes that the almost age old issue come to be resolved before more lives are lost for no fault of theirs.