Rattled by a series of collapses in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) during the monsoon last year, the state government has now asked other cities to follow guidelines followed by the city in dealing with the issue of dilapidated buildings.
The hitch here, however, is that these guidelines have barely helped Mumbai deal with the issue.
The government wants all municipal corporations in the state to conduct surveys and grade dilapidated buildings in the city into four grades: C1, C2 A, C2 B and C3.
The guidelines further add that the buildings found to be in the C1 category must be issued notices, asking them to evacuate the building. According to the guidelines, the municipal corporation must also protect the tenants’ rights before evacuating the building.
“We have suggested that the authority take fresh measurements of the homes of the tenants and owners. This will ensure their rights are identified. We will issue letters to them stating the areas recorded,” said an official from the urban development department (UDD).
Following a move proposed by BMC chief Ajoy Mehta, the state has now also asked other corporations to similarly file affidavits in courts, for pending legal matters relating to dilapidated buildings, and inform the court of the threat that the building carries.
The guidelines, however, may not come to mean much. Mumbai has, for years, been following this same procedure, but to no avail. A telling example of this is that none of the buildings that have collapsed recently were found in these surveys. There was no action taken against the ones that were in these surveys. The BMC-owned Babu Genu Market building that crashed two years ago, killing 61, was found to be ‘repairable’, while the Altaf Manzil building in Mahim was not even declared dilapidated, when it collapsed and killed 10 two years ago.
Similar was the case of the Gokul Niwas building in Kalbadevi, which collapsed earlier this year and killed four fire officials.
Senior civic officials admit these surveys are little more than visual inspections conducted once every few years and have little scientific base. Moreover, the BMC’s pace of acting upon these surveys has been terrible.
An example: Of the 92 BMC-owned buildings declared dilapidated, it has been able to vacate only 12. Of these 12, it has only been able to demolish nine, figures till August revealed.
A senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who has served as municipal commissioner in various cities across the state including Mumbai, said the guidelines in themselves are incomplete.
“These guidelines are, in fact, open to manipulation since the owner wants the dilapidated tag, while the tenant doesn’t; both lobbies work at cross purposes.
The question the state needs to look at resolving is how buildings are allowed to become dilapidated in the first place.”
The official also said guidelines are barely ever followed. “It is impossible to survey the entire city and come up with a consolidated list of such structures. Even if the list does come up, we don’t have mechanisms to take action on them.”