Chief Minister refuses to issue ordinance saying it might set a wrong precedent; owners still hopeful

Even as Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan refused to intervene and issue an ordinance to stop the demolition of 103 illegal flats on the Campa Cola compound on Monday, residents of the society said they will go down fighting. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) had issued eviction notices last week stating that the illegal structure will be brought down any time after November 12. Recently, the Mumbai police too warned the residents not to create any law and order problem during the demolition drive.

Mr. Chavan told the media on Monday that legal opinion did not favour issuing an ordinance, as it might set a wrong precedent. The State government has offered to rehabilitate the illegal occupants, though.

Thirty-five floors in seven buildings in the compound in upscale Worli area face demolition on Tuesday. The real estate prices in the area are one of the highest in the city.

The builders had, in the past, obtained MCGM’s permission for constructing only five floors. But later, they constructed two high-rises and five buildings with extra floors.

A total of 35 floors have been constructed without approval. The buildings were constructed between 1980 and 1989.

Occupants above the fifth floor have been issued eviction notices. “Those houses do not have an Occupation Certificate (OC). We will start the demolition drive on Tuesday by first cutting the electricity and water supply of the illegal floors and then sealing the flats,” M.M. Adtani, Additional Municipal Commissioner, MCGM, said. Asked why no action was taken in the past, Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte told the media recently that the MCGM officials were threatened by the underworld in 1980s against taking any action.

Though the highly educated, upper middle class residents pleaded ignorance to this correspondent about the illegality, they acknowledged that the MCGM had not provided them OC and water supply for all these years. The buildings have been ordering water tankers since 1989.

The residents asked why they were being singled out when more than 55,000 buildings in the city had no OC.

“We do not agree that the floors are illegal. We have been paying property tax for years now. At best, there is irregularity. Why did the government accept tax from us if our structures were illegal?” asked 42-year-old resident Vijay Mirani. They claim that they have all the legal documents for ownership of their flats.

The MCGM too had turned a blind eye all these years. But trouble started when the residents dragged the municipality to court over non-supply of water. The officials, when pulled up, told the court that the structures were illegal. They later issued eviction notices to the residents, but took no action against the builder. The residents challenged the MCGM’s notice and subsequently approached the Supreme Court which only stayed the demolition drive till November 11. It also allowed the residents to seek regularisation from the appropriate authorities.

Many residents expressed anguish at how the civic body let the builders go scot-free. “It was the builder who hid facts from us for a long time. He would only keep assuring us that he would get the structures regularised. Look at the irony now. He stands to gain when we are vacated,” said 49-year-old Rajeev Chawla.

While the residents said that the MCGM should take the permissible FSI (Floor Space Index) into consideration before deciding the illegality, the authorities said they would consider the allowed floors. “The builders were given permission to construct five floors. But we have FSI for 91,000 square feet, which means only 21,000 square feet are illegal. Those will be 19 flats. We are okay if the authorities pull down those flats,” said 56-year-old Suresh Sacheti.

Vested interest?

The residents alleged that the civic body wanted to vacate them at the behest of vested private interest. “Krishna developers which has bought over the rights from Pure Drinks, wants to construct a five-star hotel here. He wants us out. Another plush residential complex is coming up around 500 metres from here and that builder wants a stretch of our land to construct a good approach road,” said Mr. Sacheti.

The residents of the buildings have earned support from across the political spectrum. Leaders from all prominent parties have visited the campus. The Shiv Sena, which runs the civic body, had appealed to the Chief Minister to issue an ordinance to save the buildings.

The residents have themselves undertaken massive campaigns either through social media or through public banners, hoardings and placards. They have also distributed ‘Save Campa Cola compound’ T-shirts and badges. Many housing societies in a 500-metre radius don banners appealing to save the compound.

“We will not vacate our houses. Let them do what they want to,” said 70-year-old Ila Thakkar, summing up the mood of the residents.