RESIDENTS OF Esplanade Mansion — India’s oldest surviving cast iron building — have approached the Supreme Court against a Bombay High Court order, passed last month, directing them to vacate the building by May 15. The Special Leave Petition (SLP) is likely to come up for hearing before the apex court Thursday.
Tenants and landowners of the mansion, in separate SLPs, have also sought modification or recall of the high court order, directing the tenants/occupants to vacate the premises. Tenants have also sought that the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Board (MHADA) be directed to submit a plan to repair the building first, before they were directed to vacate its premises.
In its order, the high court had directed the MHADA to chalk out an entire programme for repairing the structure in phases. It had also directed the municipal corporation and MHADA, along with the police, to “ensure that every single occupant, whether residential or commercial, vacates this structure and is evicted therefrom”.
The directives were issued after a portion of a balcony of the building had crashed on a taxi, parked below it on July 15 last year. While no one was injured in the incident, the road had been cordoned off for a few days.
The high court had then said that any resistance to vacate the premises “will be met with criminal prosecution” if required, “given the larger public interest that is at stake”.
While a section of tenants and occupants have begun preparation to comply with the High Court order, in event of no relief by the Supreme Court, others say that the court’s order says that the repairs will be carried phase-wise and instead of vacating the entire building, they can be asked to vacate as and when required as per the repairs.
“In the past, the MHADA had said that it does not have the adequate funds to repair the building. The heritage committee in 2010 had also said that repair work requires specialist structural expertise, which the consultants roped in by MHADA to carry out one of the phases of repairs did not have, and therefore the repair work stalled. Before directing the tenants to vacate, the MHADA can therefore be asked to submit a phase-wise repair programme,” Rajesh Singh, one of the advocates representing the tenants and a tenant, said.
Other tenants claimed previous structural audits had showed that the building was in need of repairs, but it is not in a dangerous condition. “We will comply with the high court’s order. We only expect that there should be a proper plan in place for repair,” B M Gill, joint secretary of the Esplanade Welfare Association, said. Gill said that in the earlier phase of repairs, wooden burma teak floors were haphazardly removed by the contractors, ignoring the heritage value of the building.