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HindustanTimes Mon,01 Sep 2014
Mumbra collapse: The rot that lies within
Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, April 10, 2013
First Published: 01:42 IST(10/4/2013)
Last Updated: 01:43 IST(10/4/2013)

Thane Municipal Commissioner (TMC) has stated, on record, that when he tried to take action against illegal and unauthorised buildings in Thane, he faced "political pressure" and had to resist a particular politician who dragged him to court over the issue. His officers were "brutally attacked by the mafia" in Mumbra when they had gone there for demolishing unauthorised buildings. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has, hopefully, taken note of these statements if he wasn't already aware of the situation.

This shows how deep the rot runs in the system. The collapse of Mumbra's Lucky Compound building which snuffed out 74 lives would have shaken up the system if the system itself were in a responsive state. It isn't. It hasn't been for over 15 years now as the real estate boom in Mumbai and its satellite cities came to characterise development.

Chances are that there will be some action against illegal and unauthorised buildings in Mumbra, other flourishing mini-cities of Thane, and in certain areas of Mumbai. The system would have kicked in and various figures of authority will be seen to be doing their job for some time. Sooner rather than later, the system would return to its familiar state: while elaborate laws and rules demand clearances at multiple levels, most of them will be bypassed. Of course, this would need a nexus between builders and politicians (often they aren't two people but one person wearing two hats) and bureaucrats in the hierarchy to subvert the system, as in the Lucky Compound case.

Why doesn't this shock anymore? Only because this is the new-normal. Lucky Compound, then, is a microcosm of the larger systemic disintegration that characterises real estate development in Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Chavan had assured, when he took charge of the state's affairs, that he would rectify the rot but has discovered that its endemic nature and collusion of some of his colleagues makes it unfeasible for him to crack down. The checks and balances in the system were undermined at each stage in the Lucky Compound case. Rajeev received a complaint last month about the illegality of the building, he marked it down the hierarchy and it eventually reached the very person, deputy municipal commissioner Deepak Chavan - since arrested - who was in cahoots with the builders. Rajeev says that the TMC conducted about 200 demolitions of unauthorised structures every year, this number jumped to about 3000 a year since he took charge. It's a measure of the extent to which the system was subverted. At the last count, Rajeev says there were over 5,300 unauthorised buildings in TMC's jurisdiction; 1,870 of them in Mumbra alone. That means roughly six lakh people affected.

Mumbra, a forsaken far-suburb of Mumbai, hardly attracted residents till the early 1990s. Old-time settlers lived in the semi-urban setting with villages abutting it. Mumbai's communal riots forced many Muslim families to seek housing in "safe" clusters; Mumbra was one such suburb. As high property prices made Mumbai unaffordable, Mumbra and other suburbs of Thane absorbed the migrants. In the land rush, law and rules such as the Metropolitan Regional Town Planning Act were seen as roadblocks that builders circumvented, officials colluded, and both got patronage from local politicians. Stemming the rot calls for a colossal determination and work. It could shake the very foundation of the city's political-business coterie.

Stemming the rot calls for a colossal determination and work. It could shake the very foundation of the city's political-business coterie.


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