Mumbai – BMC makes it an urban hell

BOMBAY’S : MAKING OFF AN URBAN HELL BY CORRUPT BMC OFFICIALS

Mumbai_skyline88907 According to estimates available to us, during the last three years 1,46,31,20,000 was the rough cost of construction of the demolished premises and an estimated Rs 98,77,24,000/ for demolishing the same. Which makes a grand total of a mind boggling figure of Rs 8,30,35,84,000/ for construction and demolition of unauthorised structures in Mumbai and suburbs.

In 2014, the Bombay Municipal Corporation has razed to ground 20,484 structures. In 2013 it had demolished 55,784 and in 2012 – 45,663 buildings bringing the total for the last three years to a whopping 1,21,931 structures. Now, going by a very rough estimate taking the demolished structure to be an average of 200sq ft it comes to a staggering 2,43,86,200 sq ft.

Calculating on an average construction cost of Rs 600/ per sq ft, the amount which had been spent on constructing these comes to Rs 7,31,58,60,000/ (Rupees Seven Hundred thirty one crores, fifty eight lakhs and sixty thousand). Add to this the cost of demolition, even at the rate of Rs 20/ per sq ft, it comes to Rs 48,77,24,000/ (Rupees Forty Eight Crores, Seventy Seven Lakhs and twenty four thousand) which makes a grand total of a mind boggling figure of Rs 7,80,35,84,000/ (Rupees Seven Hundred and Eighty crores, thirty five lakhs and eighty four thousand).

In Bombay, the population in the metro region has been growing at an annual compound rate of 2.05%. It was 14.4 million in 11 and is likely to grow to 26.4 million by the year 2021.The total stock of new housing units in 2011 was 3,026,527. The estimated annual requirement for incremental households is likely to be 151,000 in the year 2021. What a difference from the estimated 46000 units in the Sixtees and 66000 units in 1991. The supply from both, the public as well as the private sector in 2011 was a meagre 21000 units.

The BMRDA (Bombay Municipal Region Development Authority) report, comments Failure in creating adequate housing stock has been the principal cause of aggravating problems. Creation of new housing stock is, therefore, of critical importance.

Just imagine, in the year 2014 we have created a measely 21000 new units, while we have demolished 20,484 units. And we talk of solving our housing and work place problems.

We do not advocate mushrooming of unauthorised structures, and certainly do not endorse a Court judgement that the unauthorised floors cannot be regularised after paying a penality. We agree that, paying a penalty is no way out. But, let us examine the whole affair from a different angle.

• The construction of the buildings, was not done overnite. It must have taken a couple of months to construct them. Why was the builder not stopped by the concerned authorities at that stage itself? It is a fact that the concerned officials turn a Nelson’s eye at that time, because the builder or an occupant has already silenced them with his largesee.

• Ultimately, who is the looser in this whole game the builder has coolly pocketed the money by selling those premises to unsuspected purchasers and made his moolah; the BMC personnel have had their fill and the poor purchaser of such a premises, who had nothing to do with the whole unsavoury thing, not only looses his life long savings but, at the same time is deprived of a shelter over his and his family’s head which, incidentally, is his fundamental right, under the constitution. By a very rough estimate 35% of the buildings in Bombay and Greater Bombay do not have the statutory OC – Occupation Certificate, hence a target for demolition any time the officials wish.
The BMC authorities have to wake up to the realities and do something to end these frauds being perpetuated on the citizens, and also try to end the colossal wastage of much needed funds. To begin with, it will have to keep in check its errant staff, who collectively are making more money out of the authorised as well as unauthorised premises, than the BMC itself.

Infact, very recently, a Deputy Commissioner of Bombay Municipal Corporation, well known for his integrity and honesty, has gone on record, saying that over 90% employees in the BMC were corrupt and doing nothing except filling their own coffers.

So brashly are the bribes being asked by BMC employees, that thse so called engineers met some residents later and boasted of their feat in having carried out the demolition, even though they did not possess any demolition orders. Both are reported to have asked the residents to shell out the money now, or else, they boasted, `We will come again’. This time, the demand, reportedly,went up from Rs 10000 to Rs 15000 per owner.

We certainly would like the BMC Officials, including the Commisssioner to answer :

• Most of the demolitions are of the buildings which have been there foir over 20 years. If the structures do not exist, according to the plans approved by the BMC, then how come the premises were being charged BMC taxes at the `commercial premises’ value.
• If the premises did not exist, then, no tax should have been applicable.
• Why the BMC never gives any show cause notice, as required by the law
• A cooperative housing society is a `private property’ on free hold land owned by the society. Before entering the same, BMC offficals have to inform the Chairman/Secretary, or else they would be considered as having tresspassed a private property
• And finally, tomorrow, in the court of law, if it is proved that these premises were perfectly legal, and paying their due taxes regularly who is going to reimburse the residents for all the physical damage to the building as well as loss to business and reputation.

We are told that, this kind of high handed behaviour is becoming a common place occurrence. It is time that the Bombay Municipal Corporation puts its house in order and starts following the laws of the land. To begin with, it should seriously investigate and ruthlessly weed out the corrupt `goondas’ masquerading as BMC Officers and openly demand protection money.

We would advice those affected by such high handed actions of government bodies and unscruplous officials to approach the Consumer Protection Courts under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. It is a myth that the government bodies are beyond the purview of this Act. In fact, according to a Supreme Court decision delivered on November 5,1993 in the case of Lucknow Development Authority Vs M K Gupta, their lordships have clearly ruled that :
• A government or semi government body or a local authority is as much amendable to the Act as any private body rendering similar service.
• The jurisdiction of the fora cannot be ousted because even though it was service, it is related to immovable property
• Housing, construction and building activity carried on by a private or statutory body is service wwithin the meaning of the Act
• A public functionary, if he acts maliciously or oppressively and the exercise of power results in harassment and agony, then it is not an exercise of power but its abuse
• The fora can direct the department to pay the compensation to the complainant immediately with further directions to recover the amount from those responsible for such unpardonable behaviour

Hundreds and thousands are suffering as a consequence of similar controversies. They looked flats in posh and well laid out societies only to discover gross FSI violations. As a consequence, they have to live illegally without occupation certificates and hence have no legal water connections or even worse watch their life’s earnings blocked while the government decides the fate of the buildings.

Money locked in these buildings, which are monuments to corruption in civic bodies and the collectorate, could easily run into tens of crores that too at prices prevalent in the 1980s. According to the BMC, there are 178 cases of FSI violation; unofficial figures are however much higher. The present permissible FSI in Bombay is 1.33

Is Demolition the Only Answer
It has been argued time and again that demolition is not the answer, particularly in a nation with scarce resources. But neither the city fathers nor the state government has found a viable alternative solution. The result is that hundreds of flats are laying vacant criminal in a city plagued by housing problems as a result of the dispute.

There have from time to time, been suggestions for non destructive solutions also. One such proposal was made by former municipal commissioner Sedative Stinker. He had suggested that instead of demolishing the floors, the government should take possession of the premises as is done in the case of customs and excise seizures. The proposal got loss in the quagmire of files and was never heard of again.

Among the other proposals was one from some members of he builders and architects association, who suggested that the BMC take recourse to heavy fines. The authorities had dismissed the suggestion saying “there is no provision for fines in the Act.” Besides there was no precedent, they asserted. Says one of the affected owners : “Why don’t they charge some fine per square foot and use the money to help the poor living in the slums? Why don’t they think constructively?” Another argument in favour of encouraging occupancy of disputed buildings is that it would enable the BMC to collect taxes. In the case of Pratibha building alone, the BMC has lost taxes worth crores.

The Karnataka Regularisation of Unauthorized Constructions in Urban Areas Bill 1991 which was passed recently seems to hold out hope for a solution to the problem. The act similar to the one mooted during Ramakrishna Hegde’s regime has an overriding effect on previous relevant enactments like KUDA Act 1987 and KIB Act 1976 and states that all constructions deemed illegal and built before March 30, 1991 can be regularized after penalties unless they hinder existing or prosed roads or railways, communications or public utilities. Any structures is also illegal if it falls in a zone demarcated as forest land or a green belt.

Will the Maharashtra state government also be agreeable to such a proposal? Off the record the officials see nothing wrong. In fact a senior IAS officer felt “it is time we stopped talking about demolition. It is not something that this country can afford nor is it practical.”

The debate seems to be a never ending one. meanwhile caught in the whirlpool of bureaucracy and corruption those who have put their money to buy apartments see no hope.

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