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Campa Cola demolition should have happened

The demolition crews have gone home and the terror on the faces of Campa Cola society residents has given way to happiness and relief.

Last Updated: Nov 14, 2013, 11.38 AM IST
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The demolition crews have gone home and the terror on the faces of Campa Cola society residents has given way to happiness and relief.
The demolition crews have gone home and the terror on the faces of Campa Cola society residents has given way to happiness and relief.
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By: Nauzer K Bharucha

The demolition crews have gone home and the terror on the faces of Campa Cola society residents has given way to happiness and relief. Supreme Court’s surprise order on Wednesday means that the BMC will have to wait till November 19 to find out if it can demolish something that should never have been allowed to come up in the first place.

Illegal buildings are as ubiquitous as slums and traffic jams in the maximum city. The hundreds of thousands who throng the city every year in search of a dream, a livelihood, are a gullible target for brazen builders willing to bend every rule in the book to make the extra buck.

Campa Cola was no different. The Supreme Court’s observation that the buyers knew about the lack of clearances and the BMC’s stop work notices is a telling rebuke to all politicians and media for their misplaced sympathies for the residents.

They knew what they were doing. The demolition would have sent a strong message that the city has had enough of rampant illegal construction. It would have forced politicians to wake up to the fact that it cannot be business as usual anymore.

It would have pushed the municipal authorities into cracking down on illegal construction before it happens and not decades later. Hundreds of citizens in illegal buildings and many more prospective buyers would have got the message.

Painful though it would have been, the BMC employees should have been allowed to do their work. The demolition should have happened as per the court’s orders. The episode epitomises what has gone wrong with Mumbai’s town-planning norms and the reason for the city’s ugly skyline.

Behind Campa Cola’s three-decade-long battle is a sordid story of large-scale FSI manipulation, building violations and a strong nexus between developers, politicians and municipal authorities.

There is a lesson in this for Maharashtra’s chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, who has, to some extent, controlled Mumbai’s building mafia. He should now lean on the city’s municipal commissioner to revamp the notorious civic building proposals department that approves building plans.

Rated as one of the most corrupt and opaque departments , construction industry insiders have frequently complained how project proposals are deliberately delayed till huge bribes are paid. For years, housing policies ostensibly framed to benefit slum dwellers and dilapidated chawl occupants, have, in fact, turned out to be construction bonanzas for private developers.

These cross-subsidised , government-sanctioned schemes led to rampant profiteering by many builders. Ironically, some of the most expensive apartment blocks and luxury skyscrapers have come up as part of slum rehabilitation schemes. Indeed, many politicians are believed to have parked their slush funds in Mumbai’s booming real estate.

In a city where space is at a premium and where flat buyers frequently find themselves short-changed by unscrupulous developers, the Campa Cola case should be a wake-up call for the authorities.

The BMC must quickly streamline its building approvals system, upload the status of every project on its website and ensure flat purchasers have access information they desire on any building plan in the city.

Tuesday should have been a beginning not yet another comma in the city’s long-standing battle against real estate graft.

(The writer is a senior editor with The Times of India who has been tracking the real estate sector for many years)

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