50% buildings have no OC, but BMC can’t do much

Fire brigade helpless; while civic body can prosecute residents for unauthorised occupation, courts have the final say; it’s time to go beyond token action: experts

August 24, 2018 01:00 am | Updated 01:00 am IST

 Strangers on own land:  Residents of Crystal Tower in Parel moving out of their houses on Thursday.

Strangers on own land: Residents of Crystal Tower in Parel moving out of their houses on Thursday.

Mumbai: Hundreds of buildings continue to exist in Mumbai without an occupation certificate (OC). The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) can prosecute the residents for unauthorised occupation, but only courts can decide their fate, which means the residents can stay until a verdict comes in. Also, they do not have the mandatory no objection certificate (NOC) from the fire brigade. As a result, the rules are openly flouted, resulting in disasters like the fire at Crystal Tower in Parel on Wednesday, which claimed four lives.

Housing expert Chandrashekhar Prabhu said over 50% buildings do not have an OC. This means they are not recognised on municipal records and by the fire brigade. If a housing society is formed, it will not be recognised by the registrar as well. They will have to pay much higher property tax. They may get electricity and water supply, but on humanitarian grounds. A building cannot get an OC without an NOC from the fire brigade. But in cases where owners or occupants have not even applied for an OC, the buildings do not come under the fire brigade’s purview. In such cases, whose fault is it? And what alternatives do occupants have?

According to Mr. Prabhu, the problem needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. “If the government is serious about solving the problem, it should form a team of experts and divide such buildings into categories. The team will come up with solutions for each category. Only then the process of regularisation can start,” he said.

Dealing with violations

The categories could include buildings with minor violations and gross violations. “FSI violations should be dealt with severely, but sometimes, violations are trivial. If the builder is troubling residents by not doing certain minor compliances, that should be looked at sympathetically,” Mr. Prabhu said.

Advocate Vinod Sampat, who has worked on housing cases, said the government has come out with a policy to allow regularisation of construction as per ready reckoner rates and by paying stamp duty. “But even then, the necessary compliances are required.” Mr. Sampat said an FIR should be filed against BMC officials if they do not go beyond token action. “They undertake cosmetic demolition. Why can’t they seal the building or disconnect the water and power supply? They even can move the High Court. There is no coordination between the building proposal (BP) department and the fire brigade. It is only after these incidents that they wake up,” he said.

“If the BMC is serious, they should prosecute a few builders and architects. It will send a strong message,” Mr. Sampat said.

Shirish Deshpande of Mumbai Consumer Forum said,“If over 50% buildings do not have an OC, we need to check why is that?” Many intimation of disapproval conditions, he said, are strict and find no compliance. “The common reason for not getting an OC is the taxes the builder has to pay while the construction is on. He runs out of money and pressures the occupants to pay up. Finally, the matter remains hanging. In such cases, the BMC should specify how long a building can exist without an OC despite the construction being complete?”

Mr. Deshpande pointed out many builders give ‘possession for furnishing’ on the pretext of giving possession. If the BMC prosecutes him for unauthorised occupation, the builder says he has given it only for furnishing.

‘Builder’s fault’

“In the Parel fire, it is entirely the builder’s fault. It seems the builder did not have money to pay the various fees for an OC, which comes to around ₹1 crore, and started selling the flats at dirt cheap rates. People lapped these flats up and even made changes to the approved plan. Once changes were made, there was no way the builder would get an OC. Tenants are not innocent,” a source said.

Residents do not even keep a functional firefighting system. When asked whether action could be taken against such buildings who neither have an OC nor have a system, a fire officer said, “Since the building does not have an OC, it is not recognised by the fire brigade. The very fact that it does not have a fire NOC means they do not have our permission to live there. If we take action against such buildings, it will be like granting them legitimacy.”

Another source in the BP department said, “Our role is limited to prosecution. Court can decide on levying a fine on the builder and the occupants. Yes, there are hundreds of buildings without an OC, but there needs to be a policy decision on that.”

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