In what could be its biggest crackdown on top-end restaurants across the city in a day, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) demolished 314 allegedly illegal constructions. The action was undertaken by 50 special teams, comprising more than 1,000 workers. The civic administration’s move comes a day after 1Above restaurant-and-pub in Kamala Mills went up in flames killing 14 and injuring 54.
The tragedy once again put the civic administration in the dock, raising questions over permissions and licences granted to the roof-top restaurant that was gutted early on Friday.
The civic administration on Saturday, a day ahead of New Year’s Eve, cracked down on alleged encroachments in Kamala Mills and Raghuvanshi Mills in Lower Parel. The BMC’s demolition machinery also reached popular restaurants, including Mini Punjab Hotel at Powai, TAP on Andheri Link Road, Kobe and Crystal Point in Andheri, Woodland Hotel Terrace pub at Juhu, Supreme Spice restaurant at Goregaon, Take It Easy at Andheri west, Neelyog Mall and R City Mall at Ghatkopar.
The machinery also reached S Bar at Mulund, Heera Panna Mall, Opa Rooftop Bar in Penninsula Grand Hotel near Sakinaka, Sway Hotel in Atria mall in Worli, Peninsula Hotel open terrace on Andheri-Kurla Road, Hotel Shalimar on Grant Road and Zaffran restaurant on D N road in Fort.
It was the first time that three additional municipal commissioners participated in the demolition drive on the ground and visited most of the spots themselves. Civic officials claim that the drive would continue for the next few days, without a break on Sunday, even as the city gets ready to ring in the new year.
Demolition was also conducted on illegal extensions and encroachments at Parsi Gymkhana, Shivaji Park Gymkhana, Wilson Gymkhana, Catholic Gymkhana and Islam Gymkhana at Marine Drive.
After suspending five officials from the G-south ward and transferring the assistant municipal commissioner on Friday, BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta called for an urgent meeting and directed all zonal deputy municipal commissioners and assistant municipal commissioners to form special teams across the 24 wards of the city, including officials from building and factory department, medical officers of health and fire brigade, to conduct inspections of all restaurants and ensure that they are fire compliant and have appropriate fire escape routes.
They have been asked to ensure that the staircases and open spaces are encroachment-free, apart from having all fire safety equipment in place.
The drive is not only for restaurants that encroach on open spaces and make illegal alterations but also on those who made it possible for them to do so, Mehta said.
“After clearing open space encroachments and illegal alterations, we will now act against our own officials who are involved. Like it was done in G-south ward following the Kamala Mills fire, we will fix responsibility and take action against officials found guilty. Nobody will be spared,” he told The Indian Express.
Mehta added that the civic body was all set to investigate and bring out names of local politicians and activists who have been party to illegal encroachments coming up across the city.
“Those who have been blaming the civic body all this while will now face action for their involvement. We will also reveal their names in the public domain soon,” he added.
The municipal commissioner said he and his team had been working under tremendous pressure from politicians and activists. He said the involvement of a few big names in the case would be revealed very soon.
“Action will not stop here. We will continue it further as this is just the tip of an iceberg,” added Mehta.
On Saturday, medical officers of health sealed at least seven restaurants for flouting various norms, including Flamings Hotel and Soi Kitchen in Chembur and a KFC outlet in Bandra.
“Our team found a mosque structure inside an area that was used as visitors’ car park by the KFC restaurant. We are investigating this further,” said a senior BMC official.
In A ward (Fort, Colaba, Churchgate), teams not only inspected restaurants but also seized illegally-stored items like LPG cylinders. They also served notices to restaurants under the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning (MRTP) Act.
“We acted against some popular restaurants flouting norms, such as Khyber, S Square in Fort and Zaffran. We have issued an MRTP notice to Khyber, for not encroaching the open space around them, but storing items like refrigerators and others there. We will continue to issue MRTP notices to restaurants even on Sunday and the same will be submitted at the police stations concerned,” said Kiran Dighavkar, the Assistant Municipal Commissioner of A ward.
In H-east (Bandra East, Kalina) ward, five hotels were inspected on Saturday. “MIG Club, the Grand Hyatt and Sofitel hotels, as well as two others, were inspected during the drive. During the inspection, we seized some cylinders from the safety point of view,” said Alka Sasane, ward officer of H-east.
In the busy K west (Andheri west-Juhu) ward, inspections were carried out at 39 hotels, restaurants and pubs and demolition action was taken at 14 places. Encroachments were removed at eight places and 52 cylinders were seized, said an official of the ward.
The official added that illegalities by these establishments included unauthorised construction and open space
“At least six pubs and restaurants were on the terrace of the buildings where the demolition action was taken,” said an official.
The official added that some of these facilities had already been issued notices for illegalities and their demolition
“Three demolitions were planned today (Saturday) in K-west ward. In some of the cases, there was a stay but we took action considering Friday’s incident and will make submission in court accordingly, stating larger public interest,” explained the official.
Usually, demolition drives are conducted under the supervision of the removal of encroachment department in the presence of police personnel.