Giving an ultimatum to residents of Gulistan Apartments in Pydhonie to vacate it by September 30, the Bombay High Court has said that it will not allow illegal constructions to flourish.
A division bench of Chief Justice (CJ) Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni gave the ultimatum while hearing a suo moto (own its own) petition against illegal constructions. “You cannot come to court to legalise illegal construction. We will not permit it. Things have changed since April 2020 (when Chief Justice Dipankar Datta became CJ of Bombay HC),” said the court.
The HC has directed the residents of the 90 tenements to vacate the building and asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) not to undertake demolition till then. The residents have also been directed to give an undertaking in writing that they vacate the premises by September end.
During the hearing, counsel for the builder suggested that they were willing to relocate the residents and meanwhile they be protected. “We have purchased three adjoining plots. Let the building stay and we submit plans for approval to the BMC. Alternatively, give us time to construct another building in the adjoining plot and relocate the residents there,” said the advocate.
Turning down the request, the HC said that would not legalise the illegality. “We are PIL court and not civil court to issue directions to the builder,” said the CJ.
Residents filed an intervention application seeking stay on the demolition saying that they had put in their savings and would be rendered homeless. Their advocate said the residents were poor people who invested their money in the hope of living in a better tenement. The residents even claimed that after giving them possession of the tenements, the builder started demanding rent from them although they had paid money to purchase the tenements.
“You (residents) purchased the tenements under which agreement? We don’t think poor people bought flats (in this building). Any poor person would check all the documents before putting in his life savings,” said justice Kulkarni.
Rajesh Patil, advocate for the BMC, however, submitted that about 90 families resided in the building which was completely unauthorised.
Patil said that the BMC had not demolished the building as per HC’s October 2019 order due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year, following the pandemic, the HC had stayed demolition of all illegal structures and eviction of tenants of such structures throughout the state. However, on August 10, the HC removed the stay on all such demolitions post August 31 observing that the things were normalizing with the waning of Covid-19 and easing of lockdown following which courts had started physical hearings.
Hence, the BMC had filed an application in HC seeking permission to demolish the building. BMC has also sought police protection while undertaking the demolition.
The HC has kept the matter for hearing on October 4.
In 2017, a PIL was filed by one Tushar Guru Salian pointing out that a four-storied building, Gulistan Apartment, has been constructed in without any plan having been sanctioned for such construction by the BMC. He prayed for demolition of the building.
Some of the residents then approached HC against the PIL. By October 2019, when the PIL was disposed of, 10 floors of the building were constructed. In that, the HC had directed the residents to give an undertaking that they will vacate the building by June 2020 and BMC was asked to go ahead with the demolition.
However, all actions were stayed following imposition of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government suspended three civic officials, including an assistant commissioner, for allegedly failing to discharge their duties and stopping it from coming up.
Gulistan is situated close to the site of a building collapse, that of a portion of Kesarbai Mansion, on July 16, 2019, which killed 13 people.