The Bombay High Court has pulled up the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) for not initiating any action against a dilapidated building in Bhendi Bazaar area of the city, and said that a masjid or a prayer hall in a dilapidated building has “no relevance at all to the question of public safety”.
Observing that with monsoon approaching, the collapse of a building in a crowded area will inevitably endanger the lives and properties of innocent persons in the vicinity, a single-judge bench of Justice Gautam S Patel on Tuesday asked the civic authorities to file a response stating why they could not demolish the building, Haji Ismail Musafirkhana, despite it being categorised as a ‘dangerous structure’.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) and other tenants, through senior advocate Viraag Tulzapurkar, seeking an urgent interim relief from the court and direction that they should not be held responsible in case of any mishap relating to the building.
The SBUT has undertaken cluster development and been acquiring title to various buildings in Bhendi Bazaar area in the C-ward. The SBUT submitted that it has been shifting tenants of the building and providing them temporary accommodation and thereafter would provide a permanent alternative accommodation in accordance with the law to eligible tenants.
However, to protect the building from demolition, its ground-floor occupants, through advocate Fazal Mehmood, has argued that the structure could not be razed as firstly, it had a masjid inside, and secondly, it was a Waqf property.
Advocate Aparna Kalathi, for MHADA, told the court that it was facing staff shortage due to the lockdown and it would take action once restrictions were lifted.
After hearing submissions, Justice Patel observed, “The submission is, to my mind, entirely irrelevant. Even assuming there is a masjid, this has no bearing or relevance at all to questions of public safety, for these are paramount, or to the question of the structural soundness of the building in question… It is abundantly clear, and in this city at least there is no shortage of examples, that a collapse of a building especially in a crowded area will inevitably endanger the lives and properties of innocent third parties in the vicinity.”
Expressing displeasure, the court said that it was unable to understand why the BMC and the MHADA, armed with sufficient statutory powers, have not proceeded to take action for not only removal of occupants but for the demolition of the building. “Allowing persons to continue in a structure that is, even according to the authorities, not only a danger but also poses a risk to the public is prima facie completely unacceptable,” Justice Patel said.
Accepting petitioner’s argument that there was a real urgency in view of approaching monsoon, the court directed authorities to file response and posted further hearing on June 12.
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