So far, 2020 has been one of the most disastrous years for the world, which is currently in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. Closer home, alongside the casualties related to the outbreak, other calamities continue to rain down - floods, landslides and building collapses. The city is already reeling under the burden of illegal structures and the human tragedy that has ensued this monsoon.
There is at least one more such disaster waiting in the wings in one of the busiest areas of the city - Pakmodia Street in south Mumbai. The Haji Ismail Musafirkhana building, despite being categorised as C-1, a dangerous structure, continues to remain standing, as some of its tenants are not ready to give up the building for redevelopment as per the plan of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT).
The recent heavy showers have only made matters worse, causing part of the structure to tilt. "I have to pass by the building several times a day. It is a dangerous structure and now a part of it is about to fall, it seems. But despite all this, civic authorities seem to be avoiding taking any action," said a man, living in the neighbourhood of the structure.
Notably, the building stands next to the last known address of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, on the Pakmodia Street.
The prime dispute is that tenants do not want to give up their residence, claiming that the said property is a Wakf one and cannot be razed. Further, the tenants claim that the building has a masjid on its premises and hence, the structure cannot be pulled down.
It would not be out of place to mention that the Bombay High Court had, in June this year, slammed both the BMC as well as the MHADA for failing to take any legal action against the structure, despite its having issued a notice under the relevant provisions, asking tenants to vacate the premises so that it could be demolished.
The HC bench of Justice Gautam Patel had trashed all the contentions of these tenants, especially the one about there being a masjid on the building's premises.
"Even assuming there is a masjid, this has no bearing or relevance at all to questions of public safety, for these are paramount to the question of structural soundness of the building in question," Justice Patel had said in his recent orders.
"It is abundantly clear — and in this city at least there is no shortage of examples — that the collapse of a building, especially in a crowded area, will inevitably endanger the lives and properties of innocent third parties in the vicinity," Justice Patel had added.
The judge had also sought an explanation from both the BMC and the MHADA on why they did not demolish the structure despite issuing a demolition notice to its tenants.
"It requires an explanation on affidavit from the BMC and the MHADA as to why they are unable to take action and why they have not take action so far," Justice Patel had said.
Before the bench, the MHADA had cited the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, lfor "not acting" against the illegal structure. It had however, assured the judges that it would act against the building as and when situation would improve.
The tenants, in a bid to secure protection for their structure, had assailed the HC order before the Supreme Court. The top court, however, considered the fact that the building is in a bad shape and could fall any time. It accordingly dismissed the special leave petition (SLP) filed against the HC's orders.
Civic officer Chakrapani Alle, C ward, said the BMC has nothing to do with the building. "Legally it is for the MHADA to look into the issue, as it is a cessed building," Alle told The Free Press Journal.
"The main dispute is between the developer (SBUT) and the tenants, as they had agreed to give alternative accommodation to the tenants. But the developer hasn't done so, yet. So, unless the developer gives them transit accommodation, they won't vacate," the official added. SBUT was unavailable for comment.