Houses of cards

Nov 12, 2008, IBNLive

Atleast 19000 cessed buildings in Mumbai are just that. Every monsoon nearly a dozen buildings collapse in the island city and over the year around 100 buildings in the city partially or fully collapse. Every building leaves behind a story of mangled bodies, shattered families and government negligence. Syed House near Crawford market was no different. 6 lives were lost on the 12th of November as part of the building collapsed. And soon angry mobs gathered demanding why the BMC had never taken cognizance of their complaints about a new construction happening nearby which weakened Syed House’s foundation.

It’s a story repeated across the island city especially in the areas like Dongri, Kalbadevi, Mohammed Ali Road, Bhendi Bazaar and other areas close by. Most of the buildings in these parts of town are more than 70 years old and built indiscriminately without any consideration to fire safety or any other laws. As a result, the areas look like huge ghettos. Anyone who thinks Mumbai is all about glamour, will surely change their opinion once they visit these places. (If you want visual proof, watch the sequence in the Gulistan building in the movie Aamir, that building actually exists in such a neighbourhood in Mumbai). The landlords don’t care about these buildings because they are frustrated with the low rents paid by the tenants and the tenants can hardly do anything without his consent. And with this neglect every year many buildings in these congested bylanes crumble, unable to bear the ravages of time, the illegal constructions and mindless modifications. Every year the administration comes up with a list of dangerous buildings. But residents continue to live in these shaky buildings just because the alternatives probably seem even worse.

Most residents in these areas do not trust the government’s plans for redevelopment. For one, it is too complicated and secondly, there is no guarantee if the redevelopment project will ever be completed. Every resident is suspicious of the builder who bids for the redevelopment. Even if the builder manages to get the requisite 70% consent in the beginning, there always rises a rebel faction amongst the residents that challenges the redevelopment later for rightful or wrong reasons. So instead of a construction plan, legal battle lines are drawn. Most builders try their best to misrepresent facts and get more and more FSI and most of the times succeed with the help of corrupt Mhada and BMC officials. Some of them even engineer collapses of nearby buildings to get approval for developing more buildings. And once all the permissions are done, the residents are shifted to transit camps in far away suburbs, to rooms that have mostly been encroached upon by local goons and their kith and kin. And because there is never a time limit for redevelopment, these residents continue to live in the transit camps while builders get all the time to try and twist the laws and cheat the residents of their properties. So residents say they would rather die in one of the collapses than go through hell everyday after redevelopment is sanctioned.

The biggest culprit in this matter however, is the administration with its vague laws and corrupt officials. It is the administration which gave permission for these buildings to get constructed so close to one another. It is the administration that allowed newer construction and modification of the buildings without checking if the building could withstand them. It is the administration that messes up the yearly structural audit of these buildings. It is the administration which delays amendments and doesn’t encourage a well planned cluster redevelopment of the areas. And it is the administration’s acts that ensure no resident ever trusts any redevelopment plan and refuses point blank to consider them.

The rampant construction in the area has forced the Supreme Court to pass an order that buildings will be allowed to be constructed as close as 5 feet to each other. Why? Because unless that is done, the building will never be able to come up according to the existing FSI laws and also because there was probably only that much space between them to begin with. The result, these areas will probably be ghettos even after they are redeveloped. And to think that our politicians ask us to believe in the Shanghai dream!



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