Punishing the duped must stop
Oct 13 2013
Every few years, a high profile case grips the attention of the public. In recent months, it has been the plight of the Campa Cola Compound residents. I will not go into the details of the case. The Municipal Corporation suddenly discovered that many apartments were illegally constructed that must be demolished. Now suddenly, the corporation became morally conscientious and decided that they would not allow such an illegality to go unpunished. So they served demolition orders on the hapless residents. Not just that, but they pursued the case very efficiently through the courts to ensure that the residents did not get any relief. Wish they had been as efficient and conscientious when the builder was constructing and selling the illegal apartments.
Residents of the Campa Cola Compound are all middle class families. They must have managed to buy apartments here from their life savings. Since buying an apartment in Mumbai is becoming impossible for the middle class, I don’t think any of them can afford to get over their loss and buy another apartment. Some of them may have realised all was not usual with the apartment they were buying, their only crime temptation. Should a person be awarded death sentence for stealing a loaf of bread? For many of the residents of the compound who will lose their homes, it would be somewhat like a death sentence, if not less.
Why have neither the courts nor the state government stepped in to provide relief to the residents on purely humanitarian grounds? Before punishing the duped residents, has the city, state and courts punished those who committed the crime? Why are builders, officials and politicians, who all profited from the crime, being allowed to go scot-free and the duped being punished? Who do the victims turn to, for succour, if no one will sympathise with them? The courts and the state government must provide relief to the residents. If it sets a precedent, so be it.
Building frauds and the evil nexus in each one of them is nothing new to Mumbai. The first high profile case was of Pratibha apartments. A ‘reformed’ smuggler built it; they were apartments for the elite. A very tall tower sprang up, only after the building was complete and buyers were about to occupy it, did the city and state officials wake up to the fact that more than a dozen of the top floors were illegally constructed. After prolonged court battles, orders were issued to demolish the illegal floors. Pratibha still stands, an eye sore, its illegal top floors partly demolished and made unliveable. Resulting in the fact that no one has occupied even the legal portions of the building.
In the 70s and 80s, areas such as Mira, Bhayendar and Vasai, adjacent to North Mumbai, saw a huge construction boom. Every thief and rowdy thug became a builder; local politicians provided patronage for money; local officials made fortunes by turning a blind eye to the illegal activities. Goons grabbed land and constructed buildings illegally without bothering about any permission. People, mostly lower middle class, flocked to these well-connected new satellite townships. Then Bhyandar, Mira Road and Vasai became towns and had their own municipalities. Thus, all the illegalities were discovered and many buildings demolished. Many lost their homes and lives; many dreams were shattered.
It happened in the Kandivali, Borivali, Dahisar belt too, where forest officials suddenly woke up to the fact that builders had encroached on the Sanjay Gandhi National Park’s forest land and built many township sized complexes. Again large-scale demolitions carried out, again residents were punished.
In recent times, Adarsh was a high profile case of corruption, avarice and abuse of power. It was illegally built right in the midst of the defence establishment. No one, not even those responsible to defend our land, noticed that a completely illegal construction activity was happening right in their midst. It’s not surprising that top officials, defence brass and politicians were the beneficiaries. When the scam came to light, a few VIPs were punished, but the families of the martyrs in Kargil, for whom the apartments were supposedly being built, the few genuine claimants, were left in the lurch.
This system of punishing the innocent for the crimes of others must stop. Let us stand in solidarity with the Campa Cola residents. Today they suffer, while tomorrow any of us could suffer the same plight.
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)