Who are the politicians who either build illegal housing or protect them, or worse, secure compliance from the civic officials who wink at the contraventions? More importantly, where is the blacklist of builders who have indulged in rule-breaking as a business practice so that the buyers can avoid their projects, asks Mahesh Vijapurkar.
Mumbai’s metropolitan region with its several cities is now in the vortex of a serious crisis and home owners don’t know which way to look. They have been told, if they are residents of illegal houses, that they have to vacate sooner or later. This follows the sudden awakening that the region, be it any city including Mumbai, is rife with illegal housing.
No one should countenance illegalities of any sort in a civilised world but the single question as to who were responsible for perpetrating them has not been asked. By not having asked, they are allowing -- or in all likelihood, will allow, and mark my word -- them to go scot free. They happen to be the civic officials and politicians and their partner in crime, the builder-developer class.
Illegal housing and dangerous housing, the latter being those set to collapse because of its vintage or poor quality, because poor quality was a factor of illegalities to ensure profiteering by real estate sector, are talked about and even acted upon off and on. But never at the pitch it is heard and seen now. It is so, thanks to the collapse recently of a building in Mumbra which killed 74 persons.
The current situation does raise several questions though none is too willing to answer them, and as in several other issues, s sense of the ad hoc prevails. Here are the questions:
How did illegal housing come to be dominant in cities to the extent nearly a million people out of 1.8 million in Thane are said to be living in them?
Mira-Bhayander had cautioned buyers that 70 per cent of housing stock there and much more in Ulhasnagar were illegal? Mumbai doesn’t even know the size of this problem.
If there are illegalities now known to the civic bodies, why were they not listed so the buyers could know which stock they bought from was legit or not? And what, according to the civic bodies constitutes an ‘illegal construction’?
Why it that these illegalities were not spotted even as they surfaced instead of much-delayed post facto response only after tragedy which leaves no place for the civic body to hide?
Who are the politicians who either build or protect them, or worse, secure compliance from the civic officials who wink at the contraventions?
More importantly, where is the blacklist of builders who have indulged in rule-breaking as a business practice so that the buyers can avoid their projects? Have any builder-developers been ever punished? Or, for that matter, a civic official?
These questions point to where the mischief lies, especially because such proliferation of illegal structures did not happen overnight and admittedly have been a long enduring feature of all cities. The extent of how rampant they are could vary but not by much. And yet, the cities have not managed to deal with them.
Demolition is no answer by any measure because it only punishes the victim. A buyer is quite likely to assume that a building which took two-three years to build would have passed muster with the civic body and trusts the civic body. In the end, going by the spree of demolitions and the intent to keep at it, points to how misplaced -- and expensive at that -- the trust has been.
Few years ago, the Maharashtra had adopted a law which can regularise almost an entire city, Ulhasnagar, with 1.6 lakh structures being illegal is unenforceable because the minimum criteria of a certificate of structural soundness that they should not obstruct the passage of a fire-tender. If they did, payment of 10-20 per cent of the ready reckoner rate can liberate them.
Only 100 have been able to meet the minimum standards in the past three years which indicates that that city did not have any governance or minimum ethics followed. If building can mushroom in such fashion, what price the Development Plans and Development Control Rules, and more importantly, the very idea of town planning departments?
An angry Dayanand Nene, a civic activist and a pioneer in setting up the only functioning local area management committee in Thane city, has written to the chief minister, and in the hope that the high court would convert it into a PIL, to the chief justice asking why these three -- DPs, DCRs and Town Planning departments -- should not be abolished. They serve no purpose.
Many share that anguish, the frustration because the establishment does not see the citizen as stakeholder in the city and looks only to the self-interest of the other components who are politicians, bureaucrats, builders, a greedy triumvirate. And then leave the house owner to take the rap, even without a thought as to where he would go when dishoused.
They forget the cities are built for people, not the rent-seekers who exploit the rules by helping everyone else other than the common man to break them and profit from it. By institutionalising the sabotage of rules, rules which are meant to ensure an order in cities, they have made cities unliveable.
Solutions, if any, unfortunately, have to come from two of the three culprits -- the officials and the politicians.
What a shame!
Mahesh Vijapurkar takes the common man’s perspectives seriously.