A dream called home

Feb 3, 2008, IBNLive

“My dear girl, only a tenth of Mumbai’s population can actually afford a home,” a prominent realtor told me when I was interviewing him for a story on the costliest flat deal in the city. Be that as may be, getting a home has actually become easier for some sections of our society atleast, thanks to the funding available. A prominent newspaper has actually organized a second/weekend home exhibition in Mumbai right now. But the not so rich continue to dream of a home. And finally one fine day, when they manage to save enough, they buy one. Only to be told a few years down the line that the builder had cheated them, the building is unauthorized. And their only immovable property is not theirs anymore. It’s a story heard quite often in Maharashtra and especially in the Mumbai-Thane belt.

So when I was asked to go to Kalyan to cover the issue of unauthorized buildings, I hesitated. What was new about this? Wasn’t the case going on for quite some time now? And the cynic in me said well you know that they will all be regularized. After all, that’s what happened at Ulhasnagar. 30, 000 buildings were regularized on pressure from the residents.

In response to a PIL, the High Court had stayed the regularization of building in Kalyan. But at first glance the decision seemed highly impractical. Why? Because there are no less than 78,846 structures in the Kalyan Dombivali corporation limits which are unauthorized. The total structures in the corporation is a little over 1 lakh. A significant 70% of them…illegal. And therefore, the PIL in the high court. While I was looking for an illegal construction to shoot, most people pointed me to a residential and commercial complex close to the Dombivali station. A sprawling 1 acre 18 gunthas of buildings. There I met a small utensil shop owner, Shiv Shankar Chauhan, the original land owner. But all he had today was a small shop in the area and a flat because his illiterate parents were cheated of their land by the builder. The complex today houses hundreds of small shops and thousands of residents and all of them consider Chauhan as their nemesis. No one has dared question the builder who actually sold them the bogus property rights. But its Chauhan who faces the music. What gall this semi-literate man has to demand such prime land?

But this complex was not the only case. There were various slums where each flat in a chawl had been sold for lakhs of rupees, a lifetime of savings for most of them. The residents had all the papers, completion certificates, occupancy certificates, tax receipts, everything was in order. Only they came to know later that everything was forged. Old timers say that most of the forgery was done during the transition period of Kalyan and Dombivali municipalities to Kalyan Dombivali municipal corporation. Money changed hands freely everywhere around the table. Successive bureaucrats did nothing to stop it. Like always they danced to the tunes of the builder lobby that was backed by political power. And so the number of illegal buildings kept on growing. Banks kept on funding the new homes and the common man believed that now that the banks had funded them, the papers were in order, that piece of land theirs forever. Corruption is so rampant in the corporation, an unauthorized building came up within the Kalyan court premises in 2003. And the irregularity was pointed out only after the building was completed. The structure still stands there without an occupancy certificate.

The very local leaders who were backing the builders are now scampering to protect their vote bank. They are requesting the courts to consider the lakhs of residents who would be rendered homeless and are demanding regularization of the buildings. All the blame has been shifted to the officials. Why didn’t they act for so long? But still no talk of the builders. Meanwhile another PIL has been filed stating that there are only 3 reserved plots remaining in the corporation for development purposes and that they should be protected. So if these buildings are destroyed, the residents actually have nowhere to go. There is no space left! And so, the courts, I guess will have no option but to regularize the buildings in the end.

All over Maharashtra, CRZ land, land reserved for open spaces, agricultural land, tribal land, even land meant for hospitals and schools has been usurped by unscrupulous builders. Most of the buildings in Mumbai and Thane are under some litigation or the other. And the government has now proposed to levy double tax on residents living in unauthorized buildings in a bid to discourage people from buying flats in such buildings. But no punishment for the builders who will keep selling dream homes to innocent and naïve citizens. No attempt to even fix responsibility on bureaucrats also. Its only the residents who will pay for trusting valid occupancy certificates issued by officials. And they will fight it out for regularization.



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