A prominent Mumbai construction firm has paid a big price for illegal construction in a slum rehabilitation project. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has not only rejected its right to redevelop the plot it owns but has also permitted the slum society to acquire the land.
In an order issued on October 20, Vishwas Patil, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SRA, cancelled the approval granted to Amikrupa Land Developers Private Limited, which is part of the Kamala Group, for a slum rehabilitation scheme in Mumbai’s Bandra, where a 13-storey unauthorised tower was constructed despite lacking basic permit for commencement of construction activity.
A month ago, The Indian Express had reported how authorities had turned a blind eye to the unauthorised construction, even as the Nirmal Nagar police station was situated barely 100 meters from the site, and SRA’s own office was just ten minutes away. Official documents reviewed by the newspaper had then revealed that the official machinery had woken up to the violations only after repeated complaints from affected slum dwellers.
Though the project began in 2004, documents show it was only on August 29 that the police station lodged a criminal case against the development for the unauthorised construction following a written complaint by the SRA.
In his October 20 order, Patil revoked the firm’s development right for the plot. Further, while property records show that the firm had bought the privately owned plot through a sale deed on November 18, 2005, the CEO has also granted the slum society’s (New Safalya SRA Cooperative Housing Society) request for “initiating acquisition of the plot from the developer” and “appointing a new developer to complete the project.” The newspaper possesses a copy of Patil’s order.
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It has also mentioned several other “gross” violations for its decision to take away the firm’s right to develop the plot. An illegal floor has been constructed in another eight-storey rehabilitation building constructed as part of the same slum project, the order indicates. While the SRA is yet to certify construction work for two rehabilitation buildings as complete and issue an occupation certificate, about 176 of the 210 slum dwellers, eligible for rehabilitation, have been offered “temporary” accommodation in these building in violation of rules. Another 26 slum dwellers, meanwhile, are in a transit camp, which the order states is “unfit to live in.” It indicates that mandatory norms for hygiene and sanitation had not been followed in the project. Even fire safety procedures had not been followed, the order indicates.
“The redevelopment scheme was approved and a letter of intent was issued for it on December 28, 2004. The construction firm was bound to complete the project within 36 months. But we are now in 2016 and the project has not been completed. The slum society has complained against the inordinate delay,” Patil has said.
In their correspondence to SRA, the Kamala Group had blamed “non cooperation by the society” for the delay. But Patil said, “The developers did not put forth any evidence to prove that the construction work had been hampered by the society.” The developers have further contended that “they had constructed the 13-storied (rehabilitation) building without obtaining even the commencement certificate since they were under tremendous pressure from slum dwellers on account of the delays.”
The developers had challenged the slum society’s application for a change of developers on the grounds that a petition in this regard was pending in the Bombay High Court. But Patil turned down the plea. The group had also argued that substantial work had already been carried out in the project and that most of the slum dwellers had been allotted rehabilitation tenements, but Patil has rejected this saying that the construction had not followed norms.
Patil’s order reasoned that the new developer, which the society appoints, will have to reimburse the actual expenses incurred by firm. Patil directed SRA officials to carry out a valuation of the construction work within two months. The Group has contended that the society members had no right over the title of the property, but Patil did not accept this argument.
“We are owners of the plot and have preferential right of developing our property,” said the group. It also alleged that the society members were being instigated by another builder, who was interested in taking over the project. But society’s secretary Tushar Khetal refuted these allegations. “We (the slum society) had already initiated proceedings for termination of the developers on account of illegalities and non-payment of rent in September 2015,” he said. But the developers have contested the claim regarding arrears in rent payment.