Campa Cola row: Why do residents have to pay for someone else's sins?

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Builders nexus root of problems
After days of drama, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation officials on Monday managed to enter South Mumbai's Campa Cola compound and cut off water, power connections to some of the illegal flats. This after the Campa Cola residents, after a long fight, given up their stiff resistance and allowed BMC officials to enter in the compound.

Given the gravity of this issue, the controversy is not going to die down soon but it has surely raised several questions like who the real culprit in the whole scene; the illegal flat owners who bought the flats with their hard earned money, the builder who violated the rules to build the flats or the BMC officials who have been sitting on the files for years.

The beginning

The story has its root to early 1980's when the controversial Campa Cola compound housing complex was built between 1981 and 1989 by Yusuf Patel, the late gangster-turned-real estate heavyweight, among others. At that time, the BMC issued him permission to build only five floors but he violated all rules and constructed unauthorised floors comprising of 102 flats. Patel along with his partners was given permission to construct nine buildings of six floors each. They constructed seven buildings, three of which had six floors, and the other four had seven, eight, 17 and 20 floors. Knowing the fact that the extra floors were unauthorised, Patel and his partners sold them at a price lower than the market rate.

During the construction period, the BMC regularly issued notices to the builders to stop work for going beyond the permitted five floors. The builders were also fined but they paid the penalty and resumed work. The illegalities for the first time came to light in 1999, when the residents applied for water connection for their flats in the Bombay High Court and since then, they have been fighting a battle for their accommodation.

Who's fault?

In 2005, the residents realised that the building's plans were never officially passed and none of them given occupation certificates despite residing in the buildings for 25 years. This, despite the fact that BMC officials regularly collected property tax from them. Here the question arises that if the residents were living in illegal houses, why was BMC accepting the property tax for so many years?

There is no denying the fact that laws were broken by builders in nexus with the politicians and the bureaucrats and the gullible flat owners were made to suffer for no fault of theirs. The Supreme Court which ordered demolition of illegal flats, is very much right but the decision to raze the floors will amount to punishing the victims and sparing the guilty. The residents are being harassed for someone else's illegalities. It would be unfair to demolish their homes which were bought by life-time savings without providing them an alternative.

Ironically, the Government and the court are holding the residents responsible but no one bothered to start inquiry against against the corrupt BMC officials who did not take timely action against the builders along with politicians who allowed the whole activity to go on under their nose.

Shall we dig deeper?

Shockingly, the Campa Cola society is just the tip of the iceberg, there are thousands of other illegal buildings located across Mumbai. As per the affidavit filed by BMC with the Supreme Court, there are precisely fifty to sixty thousand illegal buildings across the city. Among them, more than 16,000 surfaced between 2012 and 2013. Now, question here arises, 'Will the State Government single out and take required action against them too?'

Mumbai, the financial capital of our country, has a history of dubious developers who bribe civic officials and build much more than what they are authorised to as per the floor space index (FSI) norms. The housing racket running in Mumbai involves billions of rupees of illegal funds and hundreds of Government and civic officials, contractors and builders. In such a case, the State Government should act hard against such shady developers rather than punishing the innocent people.

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