Mumbai: Despite numerous court orders, 407 dilapidated buildings still stand tall in city

The city has recorded over 3,945 building collapses since 2013. More than 300 people have lost their lives, and over 1,146 have been injured in these collapses. The recent building collapse at Malwani in Malad saw 12 people, including eight children, dead. But when one looks at the list of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) dilapidated buildings, it stands at 407.

The BMC data shows that most of the dilapidated buildings are in Bandra, Khar, Santacruz, Juhu, Vile Parle and Andheri. These areas account for 116 such buildings, while Vikhroli and Ghatkopar account for 46 and Mulund has 34.

This, despite the fact that various benches of the Bombay High Court have taken cognisance of the issue and have passed various orders over the years.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice Girish Kulkarni had recently ordered a judicial inquiry into the building collapse at Malwani. The court called the incident a ‘man-made disaster’.

One of the significant orders was passed by the bench of Justices Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Gautam Patel in July, 2019, where they had instructed the lower courts to refrain from passing ‘status quo’ orders in pleas filed by the tenants of such buildings. This order was supposed to clear the decks for civic bodies to proactively demolish dangerous structures and to save lives.

The order, however, does not seem to be implemented yet, when one looks at Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar’s quote to a Marathi news channel, where she claimed that the BMC’s hands are tied by the ‘protective order’ of the courts against illegal and dangerous structures in the city. This had miffed the Bombay HC and Pednekar had clarified that she was quoted out of context.

In 2015-2016, Justice Abhay Oka, the current chief justice of Karnataka, had passed a series of orders that directly affected over 900 illegal buildings constructed in Digha, Panvel, Taloja and other parts of Navi Mumbai. “However, there has been little compliance. In fact, the matter has not come up for hearing since 2016, despite Justice Oka’s orders for time to time compliance,” advocate Datta Mane, who had filed a PIL against the buildings, said.

Soon after these orders, the then state government-led by Devendra Fadnavis came up with an ordinance to regularise illegal structures across the state. It allowed occupants or owners of illegal structures to file applications to regularise their constructions by paying a fine amount.

But Justice Oka had struck down this ordinance twice. It was pointed out on Friday by now Chief Justice Dipankar Datta, who said it wasn't in consonance with ‘civilised society’ to regularise illegal constructions.

In October 2018, Naresh Patil, former chief Justice of the Bombay HC, had ordered the state to map illegal structures across the state, and the government had assured that it would take help from researchers in Hyderabad, but in vain.

Bhushan Gagrani, principal secretary of Urban Development Department, said that the state is yet to complete the ‘supervisory cells’ directive. However, he said that steps are being taken by authorities to map the illegal and dangerous constructions in the city.

“BMC has floated tenders, inviting bidders for GIS mapping. This technology will help keep a real-time check on constructions as it would be able to do mapping of not only slums, but also highrises.”

Meanwhile, despite several messages and calls, BMC Chief Iqbal Chahal was not available for comment.

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Free Press Journal