Harshad Parikh, a retired civil engineer, wonders if the Centre and the state are really interested in providing relief to the families worried about the status of their homes built on forest land.
Around five lakh families in Mumbai and Thane have been waiting for four years for the government to work out a solution to regularise (make legal) their houses that had been termed illegal by the Bombay high court in 2008 because they were built on land deemed, which was deemed forest land in state records.
"The state only believes in helping out industrialists. The woes of the common man do not matter," Parikh said. Parikh, who invested his life savings to buy a flat. He now lives with a relative.
Citizen groups have threatened to protest to ensure justice. "If the government does not provide us with a swift solution, we will come out on the streets," Sunil Bhabnani, an affected flatowner.
The issue dates back to 1957 when the forest department issued a notice asking people from the state to prove their buildings were not built on forest land. However, these notices were ignored. The revenue department and the corporations then deemed these areas as residential zones. Hospitals, industries, schools and residential complexes were subsequently built in these areas with government permission, with the state collecting property tax.
In 2001, a PIL was filed calling attention to the misuse of forest land. In 2008, the HC decided the area was forest land and the flats built on them illegal.
The matter was challenged in the Supreme Court that year. The SC appointed a Central Empowered Committee to look into the matter. In June 2010, the committee recommended that flats be regularised after a nominal afforestation fee ranging from Rs 60 to Rs 160 per sqft. The SC, in February this year decided to refer the case to a three-member SC bench. Nine months on there has been no further hearing.
State officials preferred to keep mum saying the matter was sub-judice. Forest secretary Praveen Pardeshi did not respond to calls or text messages.
1. Forced to stay in a rented home
J Ramchandran,54, civil engineer
J Ramchandran a civil engineer working in Bahrain, chose Mulund to settle down with his family.
Five years later, Ramchandran stays in a rented house despite paying for a house that he bought in Nirmal Infinity. "We paid the entire amount upfront to purchase the four bedroom flat. We thought we would settle done here. But I am forced to stay in a rented house," Ramchandran says.
Ramchandra had booked the flat in 2003 for Rs2,750 per sqft and was expecting to move in by 2008."The builder had just finished the slab of the nineteenth floor and we thought it would just be couple of months before we could move," Ramchandran said.
Ramchandran and his wife Laxmi Ramchandran feel let down by the state government for not doing enough to bail out people in trouble. "The government is going out of its way to help private companies, latest being an airlines. However, citizens who are suffering for no fault of theirs have been kept in a lurch," Laxmi said.
2. Spent life savings to purchase flat
Harshad Parikh, 63, retired
Harshad Parikh, 63, thought that he would spend his post retirement years along with his wife around his friends and family in Mulund. Parikh chose Mulund because of the Gujarati community in the area, without knowing that his dream home at Runwal Infinity would end up giving him nightmares.
"We have been forced to run from pillar to post for no fault of ours," Parikh said.
Parikh purchased the flat in 2005, at Rs 3,400 per sqft.
"Everything was going on smoothly. In the beginning of 2008 we were hoping that the flat would get completed in two three months. Then the order came and everything stopped," Parikh says.
Parikh had taken a loan from a bank, which gave him the loan without finding any discrepancy in the land title.
"Do you think we are fools to invest in a property which has problems. No one knew about the forest issue till the day of the order," Parikh says.
Parikh and his wife have been forced to live in a relative's flat in Thane. "We can neither move into a flat which we own, nor can we accept money from the builder because we will not be able to get a property at the same price," Parikh says.