Lata Shirodkar stays with her husband on the ground floor of Sadhana building in Santacruz. For the past 50 years, her conversation with her neighbours largely revolved around the education of their respective children and sharing of recipes. Over the past few weeks, however, all that Lata and her neighbours, who are now part of a WhatsApp group, discuss is ways to save their two-storey building.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has deemed her building, along with 70 others, to be an obstacle in the flight path for Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), Mumbai, and marked them for partial demolition. “They have listed our building to be 8 feet more than the required height specifications. This means, the authorities aim at razing the ceiling of the top floor of the two-storeyed building. For a 50-year-old structure, removing any structure of the building is going to leave the entire structure into rubbles. How are we to agree to this mishap with our homes?” she said.
Like Lata, representatives of around six societies in Vile Parle have received different notices stating the heights of their building shoot the permissible height limits. While some cases involve removing antennas, water tankers on the terraces of the buildings, rest call for razing one or two floors. A majority of these residents on the Vartak Marg and Sant Janabai Marg in Vile Parle believe touching any part of their over 50-year-old buildings will lead to a collapse and render them homeless.
In April, the Bombay High Court had directed the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to take quick action against the buildings found to have flouted the height norms, asking they cannot sit back “waiting for an accident to take place”. According to the survey conducted by the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), which manages CSIA, in 2015-16, as many as 317 structures were listed to be obstacles in the funnel area of the airport.
Since May, the safety body has been conducting personal hearings of residents of each of these buildings to clarify the height clearance of the building. What they have been checking is the expected height ratio of the building from the runway which has to be in a ratio of 1:7 and a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) of AAI that permits the height clearance of the building. By June end, buildings found violating any of the above requirements have been sent letters to notify the additional increase of height.
“By notifying the additional increase in the height of our building, they plan to indirectly scare us on vacating the premise. Most of our occupants have occupied the homes since before the airport existed around the area. Even then, we had taken the required completion certificate from the local government authorities. After 67 years, when not even one incident of a hit and miss accident or scare from any of the prevalent building’s height was reported from the airport, we have suddenly turned a threat to them?” said Sunil Vartak, chairman, Sarvodaya building in Vile Parle.
According to the final list sent, structures including schools, religious institutions and high-rises have been classified to be obstacles. Residents further complain against the variances of heights shown by the airport in their different surveys. For the Sarvodaya building, their height was found to be 0.9 metre above the permitted height in a survey conducted in 2003, it was later changed to be 0.1 metre in the 2011 survey and finally their name was removed from the list of obstacles in 2015-16 survey of MIAL.
“If the survey has been done using fixed standards of practice, such variations should not be observed. On what basis is the additional height being listed is considered true? When we ask them to reveal the way in which it was done, they refuse,” said Hemant Phansalkar, another resident of the building.
After the buildings are asked for the height clearances, the MIAL, along with an official from the government, inspects the site for a joint survey. “We conducted the surveys in the presence of government officials. A prior intimation to each of the buildings was always sent before inspection began,” said a MIAL official.
However, residents claim no prior intimation or reasoning for the survey was ever informed to them. “The survey would last for hardly 10-15 minutes. They would come in the afternoon when no one would be around. They would expect us to co-operate with their procedure of taking this inspection and then ask one of us to sign certifying their presence. Now when we receive these reports of additional heights, we wonder on what basis would they have checked the height. In some cases, three different structures (A,B,C) of a building have been asked to raze height when the survey was conducted of only one structure,” said a resident.
“We are conducting the survey realising the importance of the court order and compliance rules of safety which need to be followed. The last list of 317 structures is the final one. We are the third party in this process with the DGCA being the final authority,” the MIAL official added.
Residents further complained that over the years, the heights of the roads were further increased by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for repair works. This, they claim, is what adds to the height of their building. “We would like to understand the technicalities of conducting the survey. If the same is specified to us, we could present a proper stand to the legal authorities in defending our case,” said Manojav Karambelkar, resident of Shantivan building.
For years, the residents have complained against shelving plans of re-development of buildings around the airport, considering they fall within the funnel area of the airport. No developer would be keen to repair their old buildings seeing no scope of profit in return, residents claimed. “We are working towards procuring the documents of the building by putting a Right to Information request. If rules could be relaxed — which include concession of property tax, granting more FSI — redevelopment of the buildings could be encouraged,” said Vishwajit Bhide, social activist.
By August 8, residents claim to draft a formal reply to the DGCA to raise concerns with the razing of floors of the building. If the same does not help, they will seek legal help. “NOCs have always been issued by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) for all of the buildings that were constructed around the airport. From the list sent by the DGCA to the High Court, it has been observed that while many flouted the height norms, others never procured or received such an NOC. The latter will be given a benefit of doubt. As far as compensation is concerned, illegal occupants are not entitled to any of this,” said a highly placed official from AAI.
Senior DGCA officials refused to comment on the issue considering the matter is sub-judice.