Once the festive season is over, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) will, under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s instructions, sit down to find a solution to one of the most pressing issues it is currently facing: Evacuating people from around 3,000 old and dilapidated houses in the city.
The recent spate of building collapses, including the one in Paturiaghat Street which claimed two lives, has sent the administration into a tizzy. However, the state government has been unable to do much about it because according to the existing laws, KMC can only serve notice to residents of a house that is dangerous to live in asking them to vacate, but cannot force them to do so. Taking advantage of this law, most residents of such buildings ignore the notices and live on, ignoring the threat to their lives.
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According to KMC officials, in 90 per cent of building collapse cases, residents are aware of the risk, but don’t move out due to low rents. In many instances, the owners of dilapidated homes receive the notice, but do not inform their tenants about it. Some have even moved court after receiving the notices.
Sources said that Mamata had expressed concern over the issue in the past. After the CM’s intervention, three high-level meetings were held under the leadership of KMC Mayor Sovan Chatterjee, DIG (fire) Sanjay Mukherjee and Commissioner of Police Rajiv Kumar among others. KMC then set up a committee to enact a law to deal with the matter. A panel headed by State Law Commission Chairman Justice Pranab Kumar Chattopadhyay will be submitting its report within a month, Mayor Sovan Chatterjee had told mediapersons.
Sources said KMC had been instructed to focus on getting the residents out of these buildings after Durga Puja and come up with a concrete solution by the end of the year. Officials, however, said it was easier said than done.
“There are around 3,000 old and dilapidated houses in the city, mostly in north and central Kolkata. It is not an easy task to evacuate them,” officials said. A councillor who didn’t wanted to be identified, said, “In Burrabazar area, the commercial hub of the city, people pay less than Rs 50 a month as rent even today. These people don’t care about KMC notices. They are mostly shopowners and small businessmen. However, a strong law may help.”
“No one wants to live in risk, but do we have any option? If the government has a rehabilitation plan, we will move, but they can’t expect us to evacuate at such short notice,” said Meena Devi, who stays in an old building in Paturiaghat Street.