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Waiting and watching

On a Wednesday morning,the view outside her window reveals frantic activity at the parking lot.

November 24, 2013 6:19:29 am

It’s been 20 years since Meelu Marwah has been living in her first-floor house in Campa Cola compound’s Patel Apartments. For a long time now,she says,each day has been building up to this.

On a Wednesday morning,the view outside her window reveals frantic activity at the parking lot,where the neighbours are setting up for yet another resident association meeting to deliberate a Supreme Court order giving them six months to vacate their homes. Looking out at them,Marwah sighs,“It must be another meeting to deliberate on ways to prevent the demolition.”

Patel Apartments is one of the seven buildings located in the Campa Cola compound at Worli. A businesswoman and mother of two,Marwah bought her house in 1993 from Campa Cola builders. At the time,she remembers,“The compound premises were serene and calm.”

That was to last only briefly. In 2002,the issue of demolition of the illegally constructed floors in all the seven buildings came up. “Now the compound has turned into a battleground where neighbours are fighting every day for justice,” says Marwah,who is in her 50s.

The compound,spread over roughly 20,000 sq m,is home to 236 flats. In 1955,Pure Drinks Pvt Ltd took this land on lease from the then Bombay Municipal Corporation and asked private builders to construct nine residential towers in the compound. The three builders,after submitting plans for nine buildings to the BMC,ended up constructing seven buildings by 1989,with two of them of 17 and 20 floors each. The buildings were declared unauthorised for violating the permissible Floor Space Index limit,in spite of which they were sold,at rates below market value.

The Supreme Court has now ordered houses above the fifth floor of all seven buildings to be vacated. Marwah’s house is not among those up for demolition,but she fully sympathises with those on the other side.

On November 12,when Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials entered the compound to demolish 103 homes on the 35 illegal floors,Marwah says she stood with her neighbours in protest. “Policemen treated residents like criminals and beat them with lathis,” she says. The civic officials bulldozed one of the compound gates to make their way in. “With the gate removed,the compound has no security,” she says.

The residents’ battle,which has been raging for more than a decade now,has shaken Marwah’s faith in the judiciary and political system. “If the Supreme Court granted residents six-month relief on humanitarian grounds,there is no reason to not extend it indefinitely. The lack of political will has kept the residents hanging by a thread.”

Marwah also worries about what the demolition of the top floors would do to the stability of her own home. “The buildings are nearly 30 years old. Demolition could permanently damage the first five floors too.” Structural audits by some private builders indicate that breaking of the top floors could weaken the base pillars.

While a legal resident,Marwah does not possess an occupancy certificate since the compound has been declared to have unauthorised construction. The civic body will issue certificates to the legal residents only after the demolition of the illegal floors.

Marwah believes the situation has most disillusioned the youth. “They were the ones standing at the forefront when the BMC staff came. They have inherited the problem from the previous generation. They are bitter and angry.”

Marwah’s 28-year-old son Angad agrees. “There was a time my friends and I used to have fun in our compound. Now we meet to grieve about the demolition.”

It’s evening now,and from Marwah’s window,one can see the residents assembling for another meeting,at an erected stage in the parking lot. Contrary to Marwah’s despondence,it’s hope alone that seems to drive them on. And that six months is a long,long time.

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