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Builder resumes demolition at heritage Willingdon Colony

Move comes after HC stripped heritage panel of powers to decide fate of redevelopment projects.

Mumbai |
February 20, 2014 5:02:17 am
A group of residents had opposed the demolitions  in June last year A group of residents had opposed the demolitions
in June last year.

Following a Bombay High Court order of February 6, Sumer Group of Developers has restarted the demolition of century-old bungalows in Willingdon Colony, Santacruz, thus bringing to an end a long-drawn dispute over a redevelopment project on the 5.5-acre plot. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) had issued an indefinite stay on demolition last June.

Due to lack of coordination between the SRA and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), five of the 25 heritage bungalows in the colony, which features in the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee’s (MHCC’s) proposed heritage list of 2012, were brought down as part of SRA-approved redevelopment project on June 6 last year.

The demolition took place amid protests from a group of residents and despite a circular by the MHCC warning the developers that a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the committee would be required for redevelopment. Subsequently, on the same day, the SRA issued an indefinite stay order on the project, following which the Bombay High Court ruled that SRA’s High Powered Committee (HPC) would finally decide the fate of the project.

On February 6, in a case related to redevelopment of properties listed in the proposed heritage list, an interim HC judgment virtually stripping the MHCC of its powers declared that an NOC from the body would not be necessary till the list was notified by the state government.

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Ramesh Shah, owner of the Sumer Group said, “Demolition resumed at 9 am Wednesday after we received all permissions from the HPC last week. Following the Bombay HC order, we no longer have to approach the MHCC for any NOC. All our paperwork has been in place since last year.”

The project had been stuck in litigation between the developer and the group of residents since 2009 after Sumer Group was granted rights for redevelopment. In March 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the builder and observed that the residents opposed to the project may have been propped by a rival builder.

The HPC’s order (Newsline has a copy) too dismissed the opposing group’s appeal and noted that the project was currently stalled by five tenants out of a total of 230 who form part of the Willingdon Catholic Society. “The factual position of the Catholic Society reveals that left to itself, redevelopment would have commenced four-and-a-half decades ago. On the redevelopment of the said land, 230 tenements will be created. The gains to the tenant-members are clearly incomparable to the loss which has ensued on account of the continued status quo,” the HPC said.

The order was passed on January 31 and pronounced on February 7. Till Wednesday evening, six more bungalows were brought down.

“It is sad that authorities are allowing an entire heritage township to be destroyed by the authorities. If demolition continues unchecked, we are afraid of being forcibly evicted and losing our homes. The HPC took its own time to decide the fate of our homes and it has conveniently done so soon after the HC order stripped MHCC of powers to stop such destruction to heritage. We are exploring legal options,” a resident said.

alison.saldanha@expressindia.com

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