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Dongri building collapse: In 37 years, 894 people died in accidents involving MHADA buildings

Activists claimed that residents of these buildings face the ignominy of not being recognised as owners of these properties and are vulnerable to exploitation from builders who gain massive floor space index sops from the state for redeveloping these structures.

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh | Mumbai |
Updated: July 17, 2019 2:45:46 am
dongri building collpase, mumbai building collapse, building collpase, building collapse in mumbai today, building collapse in mumbai, mumbai building collapse 2019, mumbai building collapse today, mumbai dongri building, mumbai dongri building news, mumbai dongri building collapse, maharashtra building collapse, mumbai building collapse death toll A four storied building collapsed at Dongiri in Mumbai on Tuesday. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

AS AGENCIES traded charges over the ownership of the collapsed portion of the four-storey Kesarbai Mansion — a cessed Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) property — Mumbai has seen 3,528 accidents involving MHADA buildings between 1971 and 2018, leading to the deaths of 894 people.

On Tuesday, an illegal extension of Kesarbai Mansion collapsed in Dongri, killing at least 10 people. While the MHADA maintained that it was not responsible for the illegal construction, the collapse again highlighted the plight of the residents of such 14,375 cessed MHADA buildings in south and central Mumbai. It has also put under scanner the structural repairs and reconstruction of these buildings — the statutory responsibility of the Mumbai Buildings Repairs and Reconstruction Board (MBRRB).

Activists claimed that residents of these buildings face the ignominy of not being recognised as owners of these properties and are vulnerable to exploitation from builders who gain massive floor space index sops from the state for redeveloping these structures.

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These old structures are a legacy of colonial times when the British enacted the Rent Act in 1918, aimed at controlling rent and keeping them within a reasonable limit. Subsequent changes to the Act froze rents and ensured that landlords could not evict tenants on a whim. The law also stated that tenancy was inheritable, which would pass on from father to son.

Landlords, in order to generate some value from their properties, started a new system of transaction called Pagdi, using money as an inducement for the tenant to leave the property. The replacement tenant would pay a major chunk of the value of the property as an upfront fee, which would be shared between the old tenant and the owner. The new tenant could then start living in the said property paying a nominal monthly rent.

However, with the passage of time, with low rents generated from these buildings, the owners were sometimes not able to maintain the upkeep or lost interest altogether, even as the tenants, inspite of paying a substantial amount, did not have complete property rights over the structure.

A relative of the deceased near the collapsed building on Tuesday. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

The state government, to find a solution for these dilapidated and neglected buildings, decided to form the Bedekar Committee, which recommended the setting up of MBRRB.

As part of the solution, the committee had asked tenants of 19,642 buildings — the number has now reduced to 14,375 — to pay a cess towards repairs to the MHADA. The MBRRB spends close to Rs 30 crore every year in the repairs of these buildings.

Subsequently in 1999, the state government decided to offer incentives to private developers in return of redeveloping these properties and offering rehabilitation homes on ownership to tenants of such properties free of cost. But despite the sops on offer, less than 27 per cent of these rickety buildings have since been redeveloped.

Under Development Control Rules 33/7 (for single cessed structures) and 33/9 (for clusters of cessed buildings), the state offers private developers an FSI of three and above depending on the number of tenants. While the plan was to revamp these properties and offer a safer and better quality living to the owners and the occupiers of such property, complaints that the developers have extracted loopholes to maximise their profits have been rampant, with the result that the redevelopment or reconstruction of most of these properties is stuck.

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The government’s plan was to ensure that tenants got houses on the same land, which they had handed over for redevelopment. However, with the massive sops that such projects offered, builders realised the windfall that they could make by selling houses in these properties in the open market. While many tenants were bought out by the lure of instant money and asked to shift elsewhere, some had to wait endlessly to get their houses in these projects.

Activists said that such accidents are likely to keep on occuring as the system is skewed in favour of builders and owners of cessed buildings. Tenants are afraid to leave these structures because they believe they will lose their claim on the property.

While the state has been spending Rs 30 crore annually for the repair of these buildings, there remains a question mark over the structural soundness of several of these properties, since most were constructed in the pre-Independence era.

Also Read | ‘Redevelopment of building was neither viable nor feasible’

As many as 12,229 such buildings were constructed prior to September 1940. While there has been a consistent demand that the government must set up a dedicated redevelopment cell and become a “more aggressive” stakeholder in their revamp process, successive regimes have resisted taking on this added responsibility, leaving it to private properties to undertake the redevelopment exercise.

Activists also said that there should be a structured focus on getting redevelopment work done and the government needs to play a far more proactive role in creating a structure that is inclusive and takes into consideration the interests of both builders and tenants in ensuring successful redevelopment.

The fear of losing their tenanted home and the uncertainty surrounding redevelopment often forces tenants of cessed structures to stay put in dilapidated buildings, ignoring the risk to their life and limb.

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