Mumbai’s massive pulldown operation

25 years after they were built on unauthorised additional floors

Written by Sharvari Patwa | Mumbai | Published: May 1, 2013 1:33:20 am

If Mumbai’s civic administration can keep its pledge,91 of 312 flats spread across seven towers on Worli’s upmarket Campa Cola compound will be demolished starting Thursday — and the number could go up to 140 later. The operation,unprecedented in terms of scale,comes 25 years after these flats had been added illegally to the buildings.

What has worried many bystanders is the prospect that many such buildings beyond the compound,too,could face demolition in the near future.

The residents of the Worli flats,meanwhile,have been protesting with banners and placards against the civic administration,which sent them a 48-hour eviction notice earlier this week. Simultaneously,they have launched a “Save Campa Cola” campaign in social media.

“We will ensure that all illegal floors are demolished. This will be a landmark case and will show that no such illegal construction,even if it is an upmarket area,will be tolerated,” said Sitaram Kunte,commissioner,Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

The plan is to demolish all flats above the fifth floor in phases. The BMC will first break down the walls and internal structures to make these homes uninhabitable. Most of the flats on notice have one,two or three bedrooms,bought by businessmen,doctors,professionals and prominent citizens. Since the notice,they have made a rush of efforts to get the unauthorised constructions regularised or the demolition postponed,but the Bombay High Court on Monday rejected their request for relief.

On February 27,the Supreme Court had ruled that the upper floors of these buildings cannot be regularised. The seven buildings were constructed in 1980 by four developers on a plot that was home to Pure Drinks,the makers of Campa Cola. The building does not yet have an occupation certificate,which is granted only if it meets construction norms.

“Although the members of the housing societies knew that the construction had been raised in violation of the sanctioned plan and permission for occupation of the buildings had not been issued by the competent authority,a large number of them occupied the illegally constructed buildings,” the Supreme Court order says. Residents are banking on a review petition they have filed.

The approved building plans allowed ground plus five; the developers added several more floors to each building (see box).

Residents say they had been unaware their flats are illegal until 1999. They say they discovered it,ironically,when they approached the BMC for water connections after living on tanker water for 12 years. From these requests followed a series of litigation proceedings between the housing societies,Pure Drinks and the BMC.

In 2002,the BMC found that of the 2.11 lakh sq feet built-up area,1.86 sq feet was permissible and 24,779 sq feet needed demolition. It sent residents of 19 flats the first set of demolition notices. The owners approached the BMC and got the notices withdrawn. In 2005,the BMC concluded that all flats above the fifth floor of every building were unauthorised. This worked out to 91,000-odd sq feet,including the 24,000-odd covered under the 2002 notice. Demolition notices were then issued to 83 flats,spanning 67,000 sq ft. BMC officials said the immediate demolition target is 91 flats from both notices.

Urban planners and city experts have welcomed the BMC’s doggedness. “The BMC as a local body has shown the guts to act against blatant illegal construction. Whether it is a hawker,a slum owner or even a middle-class family,the civic authority should not tolerate any unauthorised construction,” said Pankaj Joshi,executive director of the Mumbai-based Urban Design Research Institute.

Back in 1984,the BMC had served a stop-work notice on additional,illegal floors. “But Pure Drinks along with unscrupulous builders erected the seven buildings without getting the plans approved,” said Rohit Malhotra,head of the Campa Cola Compound Residents’ Association,and member of the Save Campa Cola campaign. “Where was the BMC all these years when we were paying property tax?”

FROM LEASE TO DEMOLITION

1955: BMC leases 17,901 sq m to Pure Drinks for industrial use

1980-81: Converted to residential use,Pure Drinks signs in developers for nine buildings,BMC allows construction to start

1984: BMC rejects plans to go beyond five floors,developers keep building,get stop-work notice

1986: Penalty of Rs 6.56 lakh towards regularisation,builders pay. Revised to Rs 12.29 lakh on the ground that earlier calculation was not based on market rates,difference not paid

1987: Residents move in

1999: Residents seek water connections,BMC provides only for ground plus 5,residents move court,which gives BMC 3 months to take action

2002: 19 demolition notices to members,later stayed

2005: 83 demolition notices to apartments above 5th floor. Challenged in court,stayed

2007: Pure Drinks sells development rights for undeveloped portion (4,852 sq m) to M/s Krishna Developers,which is now a party to the proceedings against demolition notices

2010-11: City civil court lifts stay; high court rejects members’ appeal

2011: Special leave petition in Supreme Court

2012: SLP shot down,BMC told to expedite action on notices

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