Updated: July 6, 2021 10:18:15 am
THE BOMBAY High Court on Monday asked the state government to come up with a policy to ensure that no lives are lost from the collapse of illegally constructed structures. The court also asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) not to avoid its responsibility in the Malwani (Malad west) building collapse incident.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) that it had initiated in September 2020 after the collapse of a building in Thane’s Bhiwandi, which claimed 40 lives. The high court has also taken cognizance of recent building collapses that took place between May 15 and June 10 in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) due to ‘rampant’ illegal constructions.
“A disaster is waiting to happen. Even if there is a will, there are unseen forces, who will enable the protection of illegal structures. You cannot have Mumbai as an international city with too many slums. This court had observed in earlier judgements that government and agencies cannot be silent spectators,” the bench said.
“It is only in Mumbai that one encroaches on government land and in return is given free housing… Situation has gone out of control, we cannot have policies where people die. We have to value human life. There has to be some regulation. You have to prevent these kinds of structures from coming up so that lives are saved,” Justice Kulkarni said.
In June, the HC had ordered a judicial inquiry into the building collapse at Malad in Mumbai that led to the deaths of 12 people, including eight children. It had termed the incident a ‘man-made disaster’ and appointed HC judge Justice (Retired) J P Deodhar as Commissioner of Inquiry.
On Monday, Senior Counsel Aspi Chinoy along with advocate Joel Carlos, responding to preliminary findings, submitted that the structure in question had come up in 2012, however, due to state policy which protects encroachers, the civic authority could not take action against it under provisions of Municipal Corporation Act and therefore civic authority had limited role to play.
Amicus Curiae senior advocate Sharan Jagtiani referred to preliminary report and informed the court that out of 8,485 structures on new collector land measuring 2.2 sq km in the Malwani area, only 1,072 were ground-floor structures and 4,900 were ground plus one and 4,541 were ‘possibly’ illegal as going beyond the permissible height of 14-feet according to the state’s slum policies.
Referring to the Maharashtra government’s slum rehabilitation policies granting statutory protection against the demolition of structures constructed before January 1, 2000, and not higher than 14-feet, the HC noted that the Malwani incident was an outcome of ‘pure greed’ and suggested studying the ‘Singapore model’ of housing poor. It also noted that the slum constructions are beyond the permissible height.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni representing state government said that it may not be possible to remove separate floors and that the whole structure may have to be removed as per policy.
The HC pulled up the state government for further extending protection through GR to illegal structures up to 2011 and said, “It is for you to decide. If we are a welfare state, then what is the government thinking about the welfare of residents of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors in the slum. We cannot leave the lives of citizens at the mercy of legislators. How could you tinker with the cut-off date? You enjoy such vast powers that you can bring about such illegalities. Prima facie, they are driven by vested interests.”
The HC will continue to hear the PIL on July 6.
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