The Campa Cola compound case in Mumbai is not the aberration it’s made out to be; it’s only an extreme and well-highlighted instance of home buyers exploiting the malaise of corruption and the bad regulation of law in the urban housing sector. The 96 illegal apartments spread across 35 floors of Mumbai’s Campa Cola compound housing complex should have faced the demolition squad on Wednesday. Instead, the agitating residents — aided and abetted by politicians — won a reprieve from the Supreme Court, which stayed the demolition till May 31, 2014. In doing so, the court effectively negated its order of February 27 which prescribed demolition. In approaching the court once again, the residents also violated their undertaking to vacate the apartments by November 11. The first eviction notices had been sent out in 2002 by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Aggrieved residents even attempted to get the Maharashtra chief minister to promulgate an ordinance to regularise the apartments.
This is not an isolated case and it is hardly unique whether in Mumbai or Delhi or other booming metros. This is about the brazen flouting of land and property regulations by builders, coercive tactics to regularise what is patently illegal, and the exploitation of political and judicial avenues to save the property from being demolished. This is partly the outcome of the peculiar inconsistencies and ad hocism that govern property and land transactions in our metros, and partly the impunity with which previous offenders were allowed to get away. That such high-rise buildings and residential complexes exist is an indictment against the system that lets officials, whose mandate it is to enforce building laws, allow builders to illegitimately build and profit. Demolition, it is argued, would penalise the buyers but the administration could set a process in motion to bring the errant builders and civic officials to book; and put into action the long-pending housing regulatory authority. Instead, politicians fishing in troubled waters with an eye to the middle-class vote.
This high-decibel battle has demonstrated an ugly truth — we see some offender-encroachers as victims and others are criminals. The kidgloves that BMC has used in this case are markedly absent when it sends demolition squads to raze slums, even legally notified slums. Hardly has any MP or MLA extended support to slum-dwellers. The Campa Cola case would have served a purpose if the wilful and cynical subversion of the system can be arrested. But this does not seem to be the case so far.