The Campa Cola compound in Mumbai was back in the news on Friday after another round of attention-grabbing protests by its residents against India’s richest municipal corporation, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). For the third time, BMC officials had to return from the compound without carrying out the 2013 demolition order of the Supreme Court (SC) after residents stopped them from entering the premises. The SC had ordered the demolition of 100 illegal apartments across 35 floors in seven buildings of the compound. While it would be a travesty of justice if the SC’s orders are not carried out, the demolition will also open a Pandora’s Box in a city that is dotted with thousands of illegal buildings. It would also test the BMC on three significant issues: Its policy of regularising such illegalities in exchange for penalties, the collusion of its own officers in such cases and the uneven use of demolition as a method of punishment.
The owners of the illegal Campa Cola apartments have used every rule in the book to stop it. Yet they did not want to pay the penalty that the BMC had demanded to regularise their apartments. The demolition would penalise the owners for buying apartments in the 1980s that were illegal to begin with. The seven buildings were constructed by three builders on the land leased by the BMC to Pure Drinks Limited in 1955. Only five floors were permitted; two of the seven buildings have 17 and 20 floors, two have seven and three have six floors. The BMC had issued stop-work notices but the builders ignored them. The civic body did not provide the vital Occupation Certificates and water connection. However, the illegal apartments were registered and the BMC also collected stamp duties and property taxes for the last three decades.
This dichotomy is not unique to the Campa Cola compound. If it’s made an example, thousands of other such illegal flats would have to be razed. So should only buyers be made to pay the price for crimes that builders commit? There is also an urgent need for the BMC to set its own house in order. It proposed to make all sanctions to builders transparent by uploading them online but the project is yet to take off. Such transparency would have helped property buyers make well-informed decisions. There’s also a class aspect to the demolition. Even as the Campa Cola owners tested the demolition-as-punishment strategy, the BMC sent bulldozers in May to an Ambedkar Nagar slum — legal under the new rules — with less than 24 hours’ notice, rendering 600 people homeless. The BMC has a lot to answer for double standards when it comes to demolishing illegal buildings.